Northern Manitoba Community Food Security and Cultural Food Heritage

Guest post by Carl McCorrister, retired teacher and member of the Peguis Community Garden
Seven years ago, I retired after a teaching career spanning 25 years in northern Manitoba. Feeling the urge to start something new, I began to complete a Master’s degree, and then contemplated how I had always wanted to return to the land to  promote food security within my community, Peguis First Nation.
Located 190 kilometers north of Winnipeg in the Interlake Region of Manitoba, Peguis is home to about 10,000 people, making it the largest First Nations community in the province.  In a region where disputes around Treaty Land Entitlement have persisted for years, I unexpectedly found myself with the opportunity to participate in the development of a community garden that would also function as a means of reconnecting Peguis First Nation with its land and agricultural heritage…and so began working with the Peguis Community Garden.
Peguis 15.4
In 2011-2012, fundraising began for a community garden in Peguis that would also serve as an education hub to share resources around healthy eating and well-being. Following a successful series of bingo nights, the Community Garden project had rapidly generated interest and support and project participants were able to break ground on a three-acre garden site on common Band land. The year was a success: the soil was perfect, so much so that a small portion of the plot went into production that year. The community was thrilled about the garden and viewed it as an opportunity to reclaim the agricultural heritage of the land. 
Since that time, the garden project has flourished.  In addition to many home gardens, there are currently nine acres of community land under cultivation. Most of the produce goes straight back to the community, and a small portion is sold from time to time at the Neechi Commons Market in Winnipeg.
The site itself is occasionally used as a gathering place for Elders and other community members–it has become a safe place to share stories, ask questions, and learn more about the agricultural heritage of Peguis. The vision of the garden project has evolved over time, and currently reads:

To regain and rebuild Peguis First Nations heritage around the culture of agriculture by creating a community garden, to promote healthy living by working cooperatively, sharing resources and increasing community economic development.

Spring Planting
I believe that a deep and heartfelt acknowledgement of the past must take place in order to incorporate lessons learned into current approaches to food and agriculture in many Indigenous communities, including Peguis. As a result of the dark colonial legacy of residential schools in particular in Canada, we have lost connection to Indigenous culture, history, and traditional relationships with the land.
This disconnect has manifested in a devastated connection to agriculture, land, and food heritage in many Indigenous communities including Peguis, and is only exacerbated by prevalent food insecurity in many of these areas. My hope is that the garden project might reintroduce whole, unprocessed, organic foods into local food culture — and that in addition, the Community Garden could provide a platform on which to leverage food and agriculture as tools through which to reclaim and strengthen understanding of Peguis heritage.

What is your comfort food?

My favorite comfort food is those that I remember our family shared – homemade bread with fresh rhubarb jam and farm cream.  I also have my fresh pickerel at least every once in awhile, with garden potatoes and veggies.   

Who should we be watching for inspiration, ideas, vision about the future of food?

I was very impressed with the Flying Dust First Nation and their Food Security initiative.  I was inspired when I visited them back when we were starting out.   They demonstrated commitment, sense of community, and hard work.  For sure, they are part of our people coming back to the land and seeking that which we lost, that is, providing our own foods for our community.”


About the author

Carl McCorrister is a retired teacher and works with the Peguis Community Garden. He is a member of the Peguis First Nation. 
The Peguis Community Garden is partly supported by the Northern Manitoba Food Culture and Community Fund an innovative collaborative of northern community people, northern advisors, funders and organizations working together to foster healthier and stronger communities in northern Manitoba, through improved access to healthy foods and the development of resilient local economies.
This blog is part of the Future of Food series. We wanted to know: what will food in the future look like? Where are we going, where do we want to be going, and what can we do to change the course? Over the next six months, we are handing the microphone over to 12 leading food thinkers in Canada to help answer these important questions.
Click here to view other posts in the series.