Child Poverty Task Force utilizing raised beds for Island food security

Volunteers at the Little Current United Church assemble the first group of raised beds that form the foundation of the Child Poverty Task Force garden project. photo by Michael Erskine

LITTLE CURRENT— Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime, but teach a family to garden and they will have a much healthier diet. Many people are aware that Child Poverty Task Force (CPTF) is taking on the challenge of improving Manitoulin family diets through the Good Food Box program, but the group is now looking at cutting out the middleman and teaching people how to make their own healthy food.

To that end a hardy group of local volunteers and CPTF staff are busy constructing 25 raised bed garden frames to act as a base for the gardening project.

“These five boxes will be staying here at the Little Current United Church,” said project coordinator Kristen Bickell. “Everything grown in those boxes will go into the Good Food Box program. The rest of the raise bed frames are going into different areas.”

Some of the boxes will find their way to Mindemoya and Manitoulin Family Resources, a couple are going into various community gardens and the rest are destined for families across Manitoulin that have expressed an interest in learning how to grow their own food. “There have been different people that have expressed an interest in learning how to garden and who have requested to have gardens.”

The idea behind the raised bed project is that “raised beds are low maintenance, there is not a lot of weeding involved and you can produce a lot more food per square foot,” said Ms. Bickell. “There are no rows between the veggies.”

The overarching goal of the Good Food Box program, and by extension the CPTF, is to create food security and sustainability, notes Ms. Bickell.

The raised bed project has captured the imagination (and support) of a number of organizations. “Noojmowin Teg Educational Institute funds and helps to coordinate the project, the Manitoulin District Services Board provides funding for materials and the Little Current United Church provides us with space and volunteers,” said Ms. Bickell. “We also received a donation from the Redrum Motorcycle group from their rally last year.”

Over the course of the next two years, this pilot project will be implemented and evaluated for its effectiveness in creating better food security and healthier diets in Manitoulin communities.

“We will be following it up with cooking classes to help teach people how to cook what they grow in their gardens,” said Ms. Bickell.

The Child Poverty Nutrition Task Force is working to understand and address children’s nutrition and food-related health challenges in at-risk communities on Manitoulin Island, especially First Nations communities.  Collaboration between agencies and communities at monthly meetings and for other projects is raising awareness of effective work already happening, as well as discovering shared questions.

The Good Food Box Program offers affordable boxes of fresh produce to be purchased once a month. The program worked with Sudbury’s Good Food Box program for the first year in 2013, but now the program runs directly out of Little Current. The Good Food Box Program includes a Grow-A-Row program where home gardeners can donate produce to supplement the items purchased for the boxes.

There is also a Fruit Gleaning project that takes place at farms across Manitoulin each fall, where volunteers harvest fruit that would otherwise not be used, and making this food available to the Good Food Box program. 

“We are promoting healthy eating, cooking and gardening skills for at-risk families,” said Ms. Bickell. The Task Force has recently completed a Community Food Security Directory for Manitoulin that can be found at the Noojmowin Teg’s website noojmowin-teg.ca.