Women’s Institute focuses on food literacy

Gardening, food preservation and cooking come easy to its members 
so why not share those skills with others, say Woodmore WI members

Last spring they planted an extra row of vegetables in their gardens to donate to food banks.

This year, members of a local Women’s Institute are going an extra mile to teach others to grow their own.

The Woodmore WI held the first of three planned gardening workshops last week, and hopes to bring participants together again later in summer for food preservation and cooking classes.

Its focus on food literacy is part of an effort to help people better understand where food comes from and how to eat a healthier homegrown diet, said Woodmore WI president Debbie Melosky.

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WI members know about these things, and want to share that knowledge, she said.

“Initially, last year we thought we’d help out by providing food for the food bank,” she said. “But what we’re wanting to do now is help people become more sufficient and be able to feed yourself and grow your own food.”

The projects mark a return to WI’s own roots, so to speak. Food literacy was the focus of the women’s organization from its earliest beginnings at the turn of the last century. Some of its first programs were on the topic of food preparation and food safety.

Keen to learn

And people remain keen to learn skills in grassroots settings.

The Woodmore’s WI members were astonished at the 40 people who piled into one of their member’s living rooms last week, travelling from surrounding communities such as Rosa, Calowrie, Roseau River, Arnaud and Woodmore.

“We were overwhelmed by the response,” said Janet Kroeker.

“What really delighted me was to see some young families there. If we’re reaching that group, that really makes me glad.”

It reinforces how the skills many WI members possess are those others would like to learn, she added.

“It’s an interesting time we’re in,” she said. “We’re positioned right now at a time where there is still some people in rural areas who have this knowledge and the young people are coming around to say, ‘we want to know this.’”

Woodmore’s WI secured two small grants via the Healthy Child Coalition and Healthy Together Now to host the workshops, so will have a part-time co-ordinator. Angie Appleby who has an Organic Master Gardener Certificate will help novice gardeners this summer. She gave a talk that ranged from soil health to seed selection and garden microclimates at last week’s meeting.

Conversation occasionally trailed off into side chats between experienced and novice gardeners.

Arnaud resident Adriana Mueller grew up in Central America and was eager to learn from gardeners who know the Manitoba climate. She planted green and yellow peppers in her first Manitoba garden last year.

“They turned out really good,” she enthused. “But I don’t have much experience in this. We had a big garden in Guatemala, and perfect weather for it. Now here I just have to adapt everything I knew to this weather.”

Across the room from her sat Ken Griffin of Woodmore. He’s been gardening for 30 years but came to the workshop because “you never stop learning from others,” he said.

Planned program

That’s the idea behind the wider Manitoba Women’s Institute efforts this year to try to help others learn gardening and food skills.

Kroeker, who also chairs the provincial group’s planned program committee, said this year they’re encouraging members across Manitoba to identify needs in their own communities and find ways to host gardening, cooking or food preservation activities.

The inspiration comes from attending other WI meetings where it’s clear members themselves know how to do all these things, Kroeker said.

“It made me realize what a large number of folks in the WI have this knowledge and how we’re really actually not passing it along very well,” she said. “Maybe we just take it for granted or just don’t appreciate that we know these things. But the youth of today are looking for this information and going to great lengths to understand it.”

WI can only benefit doing this kind of community outreach, added Melosky.

“This is really about getting back out with people and finding out what’s happening in our community and where do we have a place,” she said.

MWI has an ongoing partnership with the Manitoba Association of Home Economists (MAHE) for a project called Basic Skills for Living — Building Stronger Communities through Life Skill Education.

For its food literacy programming, the women’s organization is also consulting University of Manitoba’s department of human nutritional sciences and community health sciences associate professor, Joyce Slater.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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