Last March, the OUR FOOD project expanded to its second remote (or, out of Halifax) location. And since last March, I’ve been living, and working in Cape Breton.
Right off the bat, people tend to find 3 things unusual about this story
1. Moving to Cape Breton in March
2. Moving to Cape Breton for a job
3. Moving to Cape Breton with the last name McNeil, and not having a single relative on the island.
In response to this, I usually shrug my shoulders and say that I have one of the best jobs to move to a new community with, because it’s all about connecting with people.
Arriving in March, I was keen to hit the ground running. Afterall, spring was right around the corner, right? WRONG….winter dragged on, and on. Which, despite what my neighbours might say, was a good thing! It gave me a bit more time to plan, and meet, and organize before the growing season.
The snow eventually melted, and since then, this is a little of what I’ve been up to…
There is a growing excitement around community gardens in Cape Breton and work around growing food has occupied much of my time over the past 9 months. My role varies depending on the project; helping find and source materials in some cases, to finding funding and supporting grant writing in others. To more hands-on involvement in supporting garden planning, planting and leading garden workshops.
3 seasons at Cheticamp community garden
Community Kitchen Workshops
This fall, we organized several series of workshops in different communities around the west side of Cape Breton island. I didn’t know what kind of reponse to expect, but in many cases these workshops were so popular there was a waiting list! People seem excited and keen to learn new food skills.
Preparing food together has proven to be a very social event, with often quiet a mixed crowd showing up.
These workshops were also a great opportunity to shine the spotlight on the skills that people DO have in the community, and many of the sessions were led by community members.
Some workshop themes have included: Cooking from the garden, the basics of canning, bread making, using and storing squash, healthy desserts…
My favourite part of these workshops: Meal time conversation. That’s when the magic happens.
Local Food Celebrations
In September, as part of the 50% Local Food Club, and to celebrate and showcase the local food found in our community, we organized the first Margaree Community Picnic Potluck. It was a great success; relaxed, social, and of course delicious. Judging from the feedback, this will be the first annual.
With the support Our Food team member Miranda, we also hosted 2 Food Mapping sessions. One in Cheticamp and one in Wagmatcook. Like other food mapping sessions that had been previously held in Halifax and Cumberland, the idea of these sessions were to get people talking about where and how they access food in their community. What supports you in accessing food? What are the barriers to accessing food? And then using this discussion as a platform to dive into a deeper conversation around what changes in the local food environment would folks like to see.
Cape Breton Community Gardens Coordinator Gathering
Throughout the growing season, I’ve been meeting people connected to different community garden projects around the island. These garden projects varied in many ways. Some were in the city (Sydney), some were in smaller towns, some were school garden, others were attached to community organizations. And yet, they shared many of the same challenges (e.g. engaging the community, funding, garden resources…) and so it made sense to try and bring this group together. Last week, 16 garden leaders, from Cheticamp to Gardiner Mines, gathered for an evening of food and conversation. It was great opportunity to make connections (many had never met before), share ideas and experiences, celebrate garden success and work together to solve common challenges.
The most important thing I’ve learned in the last 9 months: Relationships are key. Community work is a collaborative process, and strong, dependable, working relationships, are a must for any project’s success. Being patient and taking the time to cultivate these relationships is vital.
Until next time,
Georgia McNeil is a community Food Coordinator based out of Margaree, Cape Breton. Much of the work described above has taken place on the West side of Cape Breton Island. If you have questions or comments on any you’ve read above, please don’t hesitate to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org