Community Approach to Food Distribution: Part 2

Posted on Wednesday, 28 October 2020 under Engaging Eaters Stories

Food waste represents unnecessary footprint emissions. According to the report released by FarmFolk CityFolk in 2019, Climate Change Mitigation Opportunities in Canadian Agriculture and Food Systems, “Canada’s large land area and low average population density make food waste reduction more challenging in Canada than other countries. This population distribution has meant that food is often transported over great distances.”

Jess Housty, Executive Director of Qqs Projects Society, a Haíɫzaqv charitable non-profit focused on supporting youth and families to thrive through community and cultural programming, was born and raised in Bella Bella.  “I was really blessed to grow up in a family that spent a lot of time out in the lands and waters harvesting ancestral foods, but also with parents and grandparents who had gardens at home. I had a lot of access in my childhood to very local foods and skill-building that was really amazing,” says Housty.

Housty’s father founded Qqs Project Society when she was a teenager and was dedicated to supporting positive community development work, particularly related to youth and families. Housty reflects, “I got to grow up in the organization, participating and then eventually leading community-identified projects.”

In 2012, the society rebuilt a facility that was lost to a serious fire.  Housty recalls, “It was challenging, but gave us an opportunity to purpose-build a facility that really reflected who we were, where we worked, in the kind of programs we wanted to run.  When we started envisioning that new space, we built a lot of garden space into it because we wanted to build some capacity and teach the skills around growing your own food to kids and families. We also wanted to grow as much of our own produce as we could.”

In 2016, off the shores of Bella Bella, the Nathan E. Steward oil spill caused an environmental disaster for Housty’s community.

It spilled 110,000 litres of diesel, and over 5,000 litres of heavy oil in an ecosystem that our community members know is the breadbasket of our nations. It was a place where we harvested dozens of marine and intertidal species,” recounts Housty.

women holding basket of produce

Photo courtesy of Jess Housty.

There was lasting trauma in the community caused by the accident; it spurred Housty’s desire to really think about food security in a new way. In the spring of 2017, Housty created a community garden where they have 40 raised beds. “One of the big reasons why we wanted to have that garden space right in the center of town was to combat that myth that we don’t have a good climate for growing things and to create a learning space where we could host workshops and do hands-on teaching and gardening to build community skills,” says Housty.

Before the pandemic, the non-profit would host a dozen workshops on different gardening topics, food preservation, and seed saving. In the spring, when the pandemic hit they re-envisioned their gardening program to become household-focused and they supported 80 participants to grow food in their home garden space. “There’s an incredible depth of ancestral knowledge around plant systems here and that has helped our people to survive for millennia.”  She continued, “For a lot of people in the community, it was their grandmothers who carried that knowledge and passed it down. When we relaunched our COVID safe approach to local food security, we called it the Granny Gardens.”

They built a small greenhouse so they could start seeds to help participants start growing their own food. Instead of hosting in-person workshops, Housty shifted to online instruction and used social media as a teaching tool.

Bella Bella is a small community located on the remote Central Coast of BC. Housty notes that their one grocery store has done a great job, in spite of the pandemic, that the community still has access to resources. She says, “Situated where we are, the supply chains always feel a little bit tenuous. And when you look at what’s on the shelves, particularly when it comes to the fresh produce, it tends to be quite expensive and it tends to be pretty low in nutritional value. It’s either been harvested when it was really under-ripe so that it could transit such a huge distance or it’s half-rotten by the time it gets here.”

Housty reflects, “When you look at the deeper values in the community around how we take care of our territory and our commitment to sustainability and reciprocity, it doesn’t feel good knowing that your very expensive and nutritionally poor produce has a huge carbon footprint. It is not consistent with who we are.”

Housty speaks passionately about encouraging people to try growing their own food, “There’s this mentality that I don’t have a green thumb or things won’t grow here,” she continues, ‘it just takes boldness and a willingness to adapt.” During the pandemic, Housty and her community have become strategic in what they grow and are working through all of the challenges they face.