Grant program helps community-driven food projects take root in N.B. communities

By Sean Sullivan

A new grant program for New Brunswick communities has helped sow the seeds for community gardens, food box programs and community-run kitchens across the province.

In 2012, the Community Food Action Program provided 37 grants for projects that increase access to healthy food, enhance food skills and build food-secure communities in N.B. The nascent program is coordinated by the Department of Healthy and Inclusive Communities.

To celebrate the launch of the 2013 grant program, HEPAC is bringing you snapshots of Community Food Action projects from across N.B., with the goal of inspiring other communities to follow suit with food security programs of their own.

Hillsborough Elementary School

Little Green Thumbs & Caledonia Growing Garden

DAWSON SETTLEMENT, N.B. — The children from Hillsborough Elementary School began their Community Food Action project a few days before school let out for the summer, planting potatoes, pumpkins, and other vegetables on Lisa Brown’s Dawson Settlement farm.

“We thought the way to affect change is to target children,” says Brown, who helped create the student gardening group at Hillsborough. When the elementary students returned that fall to harvest their vegetables, it was obvious that word of the fun project had spread. “We expected about 10 kids; instead, they had 40,” she says.

The children used their vegetables to make and serve a “harvest lunch” to their entire school, which gathered at Farmer Brown’s Greenhouse one October afternoon to chow down on six different kinds of soups with homemade rolls, with a choice of apple, pumpkin or pear tarts for dessert. The students grew the pumpkins, while the apples and pears came from nearby trees.

“There are a lot of kids with difficult home lives, and teaching them that they can feed themselves is empowering,” Brown says. “We’re trying to foster the idea that you can stay here in our community and grow food; you don’t have to get a job away.”

The children have also planted and grown cucumbers at a senior’s home, while older students at Caledonia Regional High School, also in Hillsborough, are in the midst of creating a fruit and vegetable garden on the school grounds. The grant has helped buy kid-sized shovels, rakes, hand trowels and other garden tools for both schools.

The children’s enthusiasm for the homegrown food was evident at the harvest lunch as the young gardeners eagerly served meals to their friends. “They were proud of the fact that they had grow everything, and had made the soup,” Brown says. “They really enjoyed making something to feed their friends.”

Pabineau First Nation Community Health Centre

pabineau 3PABINEAU FIRST NATION, N.B. — In January, a dozen residents of the Pabineau First Nation gathered in the local health centre amid cases of mason jars and a freezer full of moose meat.

The residents of the small Mi’kmaq community near Bathurst had come together for the health centre’s first Community Food Action seminar, a hands-on session teaching canning and preservation skills.

The grant helped fund a supply of mason jars and a new freezer, which was then filled with moose meat donated by the chief and council. The group’s first canning session saw 12 participants learn how to preserve moose meat on a typical kitchen stove. It was such a success that other canning sessions were quickly booked.

“Eventually every household who’s interested in doing it will know how to bottle the meat,” says Lauramae Sewell of the Community Health Centre. “It’s not complicated. If you hunt your meat, your meat is free; all you need to do is buy mason jars.”

The grant has helped empower residents, Sewell says, while giving the community centre the financial flexibility to pass out food baskets over Christmas and assist elderly and low-income families.

“It’s such a wonderful thing to be able to put that help into the community,” Sewell says. “Winter in the Maritimes can be hard; a lot people are down and out and could use an extra hand.”

Kings County Family Resource Centre

SUSSEX, N.B. — At the Kings County Family Resource Centre, a series of “back to basics” courses have helped families learn about eating well on a budget. But it’s not only nutrition that’s on the syllabus. At one class, a provincial health inspector taught parents about bacteria, cooking temperature and safe storage and handling for food.

“It’s scary to see how quickly bacteria can grow in the kitchen,” says director Stephanie Ness, who coordinates the non-profit public health agency.

‘The thermometer makes me feel so much better about my cooking. It takes the guessing away.’

Participants learned a variety of methods to protect their families from food-borne illnesses, from using multiple cutting surfaces to making the frozen-food aisle the last stop on a shopping trip. Each person took home a food thermometer; a small gift that makes a big impact on the household, Ness says.

“When you don’t have very much money, this is the kind of thing you generally don’t buy,” Ness says. “One mother told me, ‘The thermometer makes me feel so much better about my cooking. It takes the guessing away.’ ”

The Kings County Family Resource Centre serves at-risk families in the Sussex area. Many of its clients struggle with financial hardship, it important for such courses to teach how individuals can eat well on a budget.

As its next project, the resource centre is working with a dietitian to create a booklet of recipes and cost-saving tips, most of which have been submitted by its members. The crowd-sourced book is a great way to boost community interest and participation from the community, Ness says.

“This isn’t something we’re forcing on them,” she adds. “It’s much more comforting when it comes from your friends.”

Lorne Middle School Community Farming Project

Photo by Global News (click for full story)

SAINT JOHN, N.B. — A vacant lot in the heart of one of Saint John’s most challenged neighbourhoods is getting a new lease on life, thanks to the Community Food Action Program. The plot of land adjacent to Lorne Middle School will soon be home to six, four-by-12-foot raised beds tended by the students and community members.

Given the location of the garden, raised beds were a must, volunteer Derrick Mitchell says.

“We did soil testing, and the results were off the charts,” says Mitchell, whose day job is as a terrestrial ecologist at his environmental company, Boreal Environmental Inc. The soil in the vacant lot was rife with lead and other heavy metals; a testament to the number of buildings that have burned and fallen in the old Saint John neighbourhood, Mitchell says.

The project has mobilized students at Lorne Middle School, whose teachers are beginning to work the construction of the garden into their educational curriculum, whether it’s composting (science), planting space and area (math) or computer design skills (using free software to plot out the new garden). Most recently, students have learned how to start seeds inside for the garden, using “light boxes,” small spaces that provide a consistent light and heat for seedlings.

Organizers hope reclaiming this vacant space as a garden will serve as proof-of-concept for small-scale urban farming in Saint John while teaching students about a balanced diet, the concepts of sustainability and self-reliance in food production.

“We plan on involving the students in as many ways as possible,” Mitchell says. “We want the kids to own this.”

The Community Food Action Program supports community-driven initiatives that address the healthy eating needs of New Brunswickers, with a focus on improving food security for people living in poverty, seniors, young people, and persons with disabilities.

Eligible applicants can receive up to $3,000 in grant funding and must address the program’s four criteria:

  • Increase food knowledge and skills in communities for all people involved in the program
  • Increase access to healthy food
  • Increase community capacity
  • Build strong partnerships, including shared vision and work, as well as financial and/or in-kind contributions

Applications will be accepted beginning May 27, 2013.

For more information or to apply for a Community Food Action Program grant, visit: