MILLVILLE — Estelle Levangie believes a strong local food supply chain is a resilient one.
It's one of the reasons why the farmer is excited to be a part of a new pilot program being run by Island Food Network and the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design.
Called The Culture Exchange, the program provides workshops in farm, culinary and craft skills in four rural communities in Cape Breton. It also aims to teach women living in rural communities how these skills can be turned into viable business ventures.
Focusing on women in leadership roles in agriculture, food, craft and culture sectors, the pilot project is funded through a $50,000 grant received by the Canadian Women's Foundations through the Investment Readiness Fund.
Levangie, owner of Thyme for Eye Farm in Millville, is one of the female business owners hired to participate in the program. Providing workshops in farm skills, Levangie said she was asked to be involved because they heard she was already trying to develop classes like these.
"If we really want to build a more resilient food system, we really need to up the production especially in Cape Breton," said Levangie who has a master's degree in agriculture.
"A resilient food system, it starts with people growing their own food. I think that's the solution here. And if no one is doing it, you can't just start. You can't go to your neighbour and say, 'how do you grow this' when nobody around you is doing it.
Last weekend, Levangie held a butchering workshop for six participants and on Saturday she's holding Garlic Growing 101.
For $20, people learn how to plant their garlic now for next season and go home with their own seeds. She also has planned workshops in foraging, pressure canning and medicine making.
The other workshop leaders are Noelle Doucette, running Cultrepreneurs in Potlotek, Demmarest Haney, running Feywood Groove Folk School in Albert Bridge and Kim Tilsley, running the People's School 2.0 in Margaree. These workshops span topics like culinary skills, homestead like, folk art and land-based learning.
"For us, this name (Culture Exchange) represents revaluing, sharing and growing local cultural knowledge. It embodies our grassroots approach to supporting rural community members and working across sectors - agriculture/food and culture/craft," said Island Food Network co-ordinator Jody Nelson
"This name also gives this project room to spread its wings down the road."
Thanks to the grant, Nelson said the workshops are offered to the public for little to no cost and she hopes they will also help people starting to see food as a cultural commodity.
While Levangie has started her workshops already, Nelson said each site leader is mapping out their own schedules and themes, with different dates.
Information for each one will be promoted by the site leader through social media as well as posters and word of mouth. Nelson said they do have hopes the program will last beyond this pilot year.
"We are just getting started and getting it off the ground so we're not at the stage where we know what the next step looks like," she said.
"But we do really imagine there's a lot of interest (in making connections across sectors)."