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Growing local gains new ground

Digging up knowledge: Manitobans sign up to eat local and 
reap the rewards of local know-how along the way

Deb Versluis and her family aren’t just digging in — they’re digging deeper.

The Tyndall-area family of four is taking part in Food Matters Manitoba’s Dig In Manitoba Challenge. The goal is to have participants spend $10 of their weekly food budget on locally produced food, while taking part in new activities.

“Eating well and just generally eating locally, and eating good food has always been important to us,” said Versluis. “And I think (the challenge) has given us a bit of a boost. It’s probably renewed our interest and made us a little more excited about it.”

The challenge began in May and runs until September. It can accommodate 500 participants, with 432 families registered so far.

Sagan Morrow, co-ordinator of Dig In Manitoba, said many of the program’s participants are families with small children, but that retired couples and students have also shown interest.

“It’s quite nice to see the broad range of interest, and that there are so many different people who want to get involved in eating local and supporting their local farmer,” she said.

One participant even hails from Ontario, but because they live near the Whiteshell and buy their food in Manitoba, they were able to participate.

Signs of progress

Morrow said there have been signs of progress and enthusiasm for local food over the first three months of the challenge, with workshops on everything from canning and gardening, to composting and food labels being offered to participants.

“The challenge is a really great opportunity for people to actually take the steps to learn about the foods that are available locally,” said the co-ordinator.

Versluis and her kids, ages eight and 13, have enjoyed the workshops, and she said the challenge’s website has helped them connect with new people as well.

Built around a comprehensive online component, Dig In Manitoba’s website also allows anyone to take advantage of the program’s workshops through video presentations, as well as blogs, and online dialogue.

The challenge also inspired Versluis to start her own blog dedicated to the program.

“Rather than put it into a little journal for ourselves, I thought maybe we could share it and that maybe some other people could take something away from it,” she said. “Also, it was a way to get my kids involved in a way that was visual, where they could actually see the fruits of their labours.”

Getting involved

And it doesn’t take a lot to get involved, Versluis added. With a few raised garden beds, and a countertop grain grinder, her family was able to switch to organic homemade bread, fresh herbs and in-house canned goods.

The urban-based food think-tank hopes the five-month challenge helps Manitobans, urban and rural alike, reconnect with where their food comes from and build relationships between consumers, producers and the community.

Of particular concern is the disconnect between today’s youth and agriculture, said the co-ordinator.

“It’s very important to get kids involved at an early age,” said Morrow. “So that they can take this knowledge and these resources with them as they are growing up, and so they know that food doesn’t come from a box, it comes from the ground.”

And for those interested in taking things to the next level, Dig In Manitoba participants have the option of signing up for Dig Deeper, which Versluis is taking part in.

“Dig Deeper is for people who want to take the challenge a step further and basically participate in extra workshops and activities and sort of push themselves,” said Morrow.

The Dig Deeper program also provides gardening kits to low-income families.

“It’s a really great program and we’re really encouraging as many people as possible to get involved,” she said.

For more information on the Dig In Manitoba Challenge, and Dig Deeper, visit www.diginmani toba.ca. Versluis’s blog can be found at manitob aprairiefamilydigsin.blogspot.ca.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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