Erica Ward greets us at the Natoaganeg Food Centre wearing a pair of opalescent beaded earrings. She is the program manager of the centre at Eel Ground First Nation. Her friend who teaches crafts there made the earrings and we both marvel at the beauty, artistry and skill of the traditionally inspired jewelry.
Erica, an artist in another capacity, creates with food and community. She designed, coordinated and participated in a Community Food Mentor (CFM) training session in May 2019 that was specifically adapted to meet the needs of Mi’kmaq participants. Working alongside their chef, Brian Matheson, and general manager, Chad Duplessis, she feels “joy and excitement “ about her role and the changes in her community since the training.
The CFM course attracted 10 female and five male participants aged 20-75. It was altered to meet the needs of food centre programming and to generate knowledgeable volunteers, specifically, people to stock and organize food at and to help the chef cook the weekly community meal. As a result, seven new active volunteers and five youth volunteers got involved.
Aside from learning about the new Canada Food Guide from a dietician, honing food and presentation skills with their chef, and planning and preparing meals together, the training also included how to cook a moose roast.
Hunters from Eel Ground donate traditional protein sources to the food centre like moose, deer, fish and other game, so it’s important to know what to do with it. The Food Safety Certification part of the training was essential in order to implement proper handling and processing of the wild meat.
Erica explained,“Part of the alteration of the CFM program for our food centre is really incorporating as much traditional teachings and knowledge as we can. We think it is really important to pass these teachings down to the younger generation. We want to share those teachings because that’s who we are as Mi’kmaq people and it’s really important to hold these teachings close to our hearts because we are losing them.”
According to Erica, the course, “Was more about learning new things and building each other up. I expected a classroom setting but it wasn’t like that at all.” There was an atmosphere of friendly competition between the men and the women on how straight and fast they could cut the vegetables.“ The best part of the course was engaging with all of the community members. Everyone was excited to be in the kitchen together and learn food skills, healthy eating and why it’s important to share those teaching with our youth.”
“At the end of the program we brainstormed a meal together, went shopping together and made the meal together. The vibe in the food centre was incredible.”
Next, Erica would like to bring in a gardening consultant to learn what grows best in their area and to learn more about gardening, harvesting and preserving. Most importantly, she plans to strive for more youth engagement with cooking classes and food skills programs combined with art and traditional crafts. This past summer the centre held beading, moccasin making and traditional art workshops to attract more youth.
There was a waiting list for the CFM course so two more will be held 2020 starting in May.