Food Matters Manitoba recognizes 30 community projects and individuals’ efforts to bolster local food security
But by late summer, townsfolk were eating chicken and eggs they’d raised themselves and swapping tips on how to feed and care for the small flocks.
The Cross Lake Chicken Club (a project among seven families jointly funded by Heifer International Canada, the provincial Northern Healthy Foods Initiative and Manitoba Hydro) was one of the community projects highlighted at last week’s Golden Carrot Awards ceremony at the Manitoba legislature.
“If you’d told me in college that raising chickens would be the best thing I’d ever done with kids, I would have laughed,” said Andrea MacIvor, a teacher at D.R. Hamilton School in Cross Lake who accepted the award on behalf of her students.
MacIvor, who nominated her students in Youth Food Champion category, said they “became more caring, capable and competent people” as they learned to look after the birds.
About 200 people attended the seventh awards event, presented annually by Food Matters Manitoba. It’s held on Oct. 16 — World Food Day — and this year saw 30 organizations and individuals recognized for their work on food security projects in Manitoba.
The organization’s ‘like the Oscars’ ceremony highlights the efforts of individuals and groups undertaking special projects or simply going the extra mile to grow, process and provide food for their community.
Food Matters Manitoba has also helped families in the north to start gardens, build greenhouses, and purchase nearly 500 freezers to safely store food they’ve grown and raised.
“There’s almost 1,000 gardens now in northern Manitoba,” said Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau, who singled out the Northern Healthy Food Initiative for special praise.
“When I went to Frontier School Division this summer I saw kids excited about growing food and talking about animals and their projects,” he said. “There are now almost 200,000 pounds of vegetables growing in northern Manitoba, and 61 greenhouses. And 16 communities now have livestock, including chickens and goats.”
It all plays a role to help combat the problems of chronic disease and obesity experienced in the North, he said. Just back from meetings with other provincial health ministers, Rondeau said the issue topping their agenda wasn’t disease, but food and the role it can play in mitigating health issues.
“This is getting at the root cause, which is diet,” Rondeau said.
Northern food security projects are among 35 projects in 50 communities that receive support from Food Matters Manitoba. Other projects supported this year have included Fruit Share and the Dig In Challenge, which distributed 89 school garden kits.
The Education Food Champion award went to Debbie Versluis at Gillis School in Tyndall. Known by students as “the canteen lady,” Versluis used a grant from the Child Nutrition Council of Manitoba and Manitoba’s Healthy Together Now Initiative to start a salad bar at the school, sourcing ingredients from local growers whenever possible.
Other awards were presented in northern, rural, urban, media and business categories.
Cheryl Cohan, a horticultural therapist working in Shamattawa to help community members grow gardens and learn about good food, was the winner in the northern category.
“This is for the gardeners in Shamattawa who have grown from about four to about 40 or 50 at least,” said Cohan.
The Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative, which connects farmers using sustainable practices to Manitoba eaters, was given the Rural Food Champion Award.
The Brandon Community Garden Network, which now has 12 community gardens and an urban farm, was presented with the Urban Award.
CBC’s Up to Speed host Ismaila Alfa was honoured in the media category for his work promoting good food and raising awareness about the local food industry.
Ben Kramer, chef and owner of Diversity Food Services at the University of Winnipeg, was the business category winner for his efforts to buy from local suppliers and to popularize local food at his on-campus restaurant Elements.
The awards highlight the need to help people learn to grow food and increase access to healthy foods, said Kreesta Doucette, executive director of Food Matters Manitoba.
“It’s the need as well as the passion for what’s possible is what inspires the champions,” she said.
“A lot of the reason they undertake these projects is because there are these needs in their community.”