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Hopedale Food Security: Seeds of Change

From left, teacher Eileen Flowers and students, Chelsea Jararuse and Freeman Jararuse, pose with their harvest.
From left, teacher Eileen Flowers and students, Chelsea Jararuse and Freeman Jararuse, pose with their harvest. - Contributed

Amos Comenius Memorial School and the SucSeed Program




Homegrown end results. -PHOTO BY EILEEN FLOWERS
Homegrown end results. -PHOTO BY EILEEN FLOWERS

HOPEDALE, N.L. - The Island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador is at the mercy of air and Gulf transportation for the majority of its needs, all of which are dictated by good old Mother Nature. Location and city or community size go even further in determining individual costs when available. Labrador is more of the same, and then some.

North Coast communities from Rigolet to Nain continually face the issue of food availability, affordability, and especially the quality of fresh produce. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, food security exists when people are able to access enough safe and nutritious food to live a healthy life. Distance, high transportation costs, uncertain weather, and the 2013 ban on caribou hunting all factor into the day-to-day issues facing these Northern Labrador residents.

In a 2017 Press Release, then Nunatsiavut Minister of Health and Social Development, Greg Flowers, said, “Food-insecure households in our communities are over four times the level reported for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2012 and five times the level of food insecurity measured for households in Canada two years later in 2014.”A 2013-14 Nunatsiavut survey revealed that 61.1 per cent of respondents considered themselves food insecure while at a more focused level Hopedale came in at 83.1 per cent.

So what exactly is Hopedale doing to improve the situation? For the past five years or so, individual efforts and school initiatives have been playing a role in bettering and shining a light on food security.

Amos Comenius Memorial School (ACMS) is one of 240 schools throughout the province that provides a nutritious meal during their Kids Eat Smart (KES) Breakfast Program. Credit unions in Newfoundland and Labrador are proud supporters of this initiative and continue to be designated as Platinum Partners to the program.

Hydroponic gardens coming to life. - PHOTO BY EILEEN FLOWERS
Hydroponic gardens coming to life. - PHOTO BY EILEEN FLOWERS

Since its inception in 1992, the Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador provides an estimated 22,000 meals daily to children and youth through its network that includes more than 6,000 volunteers. According to its website, KES is a charitable organization whose aim is to help provide children with the nutrition they need to learn, to grow and to be their best.

Another school project involves the participation of Enactus Memorial, a group of motivated students at Memorial University whose aim is to improve the quality of life and standard of living of community members through entrepreneurial action. This award-winning organization is comprised of volunteers from all faculties at Memorial University.In addition to the Breakfast Program, the Nunatsiavut Government (NG) also supports a Healthy Lunch Program at ACMS. NG provides the food items while the school staff packs them up and distributes them in bags to the students. This is meant to complement an already successful morning program to ensure students are getting some nutrition in the afternoon as well.

Julia Abel measures nutrients for the hydroponic kits. - PHOTO BY EILEEN FLOWERS
Julia Abel measures nutrients for the hydroponic kits. - PHOTO BY EILEEN FLOWERS

Eight ACMS Adult Basic Education students between 16 and 18 years of age and under the supervision of teacher and vice-principal Eileen Flowers, have been involved in a most ambitious curriculum-based project. The whole notion of growing their own food at all times of the year started in October 2017 when the school was contacted by Project SucSeed.

“With the support of expert botanists and engineers and a partnership with Choices For Youth,” reads an excerpt from its website,” Enactus Memorial created Project SucSeed, a food insecurity project that creates jobs for at-risk youth, while increasing access to fresh, affordable produce. The project includes a cooperative of food-growing entrepreneurs, a curriculum to teach school-aged children about hydroponic growing and meaningful employment for youth.”

Shortly after Project SucSeed donated three hydroponic kits, the ACMS student project sprang into growth with students regularly feeding and changing the water for their maturing lettuce, snow pea, and green stringed bean plants.

Students eventually transferred their ongoing work into the school foyer for all to see. Not long after this, their project became even bigger when the school received an additional two hydroponic kits from the Canadian Cancer Society’s Health Promotions Coordinator.

While all of this was happening, the school received tomato seeds provided by the Canada Space Station’s Tomatosphere Program and also began growing their own delicious fresh fruit. Tomatosphere encourages students to delve deeper into the scientific process with seeds that have actually travelled into space while also learning more about the related career possibilities.

At the end of the school’s lettuce and growing season, the school received a donation of locally grown organic hen eggs from Pearl Coombs. Pearl not only teaches at ACMS but is also an avid gardener and active member of the Facebook Backyard Farming and Homesteading NL Group and is bent on living self-sustainably.

The school’s most recent efforts ended this past November, but just for the time being. All equipment has been cleaned and readied for a 2019 startup.

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