Codroy Valley Commons
By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
ST. ANDREWS — The reality of food scarcity, especially given the skyrocketing grocery store prices and limited produce choices due to transport delays, remains a very real concern for families across the entire country, but a project in St. Andrews called the Codroy Valley Commons (CVC), hopes to tackle that problem within their community.
"The CVC is an initiative born in St. Andrew’s that uses ‘commoned’ land to grow food, and when I say commoned, I mean it’s made publicly available for shared governance by the community,” said Roshni Caputo-Nimbark, co-owner of Bert Bark Inn and doctoral student of folklore at MUNL. “It’s the latest in a stream of positive efforts to alleviate food insecurity and nurture thriving, sustainable cultures in the region. What makes it different is that it takes place on residential plots and invites a variety of residents and visitors, who I call ‘Commoners,’ to share seeds, sweat, and stories with one another in those spaces. Rather than people having their own plots, everybody gardens collaboratively in the same space.”
The idea that first sparked the initiative happened six years ago.
“When my partner and I were in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan we met a woman who used other people’s yards to grow food for her bicycle-powered produce business. A portion of the food goes to the homeowner and a portion to her, which she would sell to local restaurants for an income,” said Caputo-Nimbark. “So that was the idea of growing food in other people’s yards and it’s becoming more of a thing in urban areas, but not really in rural areas that I know about, where it’s organized like this.”
Turning a profit isn’t what the initiative is aiming for.
“CVC, rather than growing food for profit, is going to distribute food locally and put any income back into the initiative. Lana (my partner) and I, last summer we went around door-to-door on every Saturday and we got to know our neighbours and introduced the idea,” said Caputo-Nimbark. “We asked if anybody had any interest in either volunteering land or time or just support for the initiative, and we had really great feedback and were encouraged to keep going.”
Currently, the CVC has four pledged plots of land, but even more had been offered when they first began last year.
“There was more that was pledged, but we decided that, realistically, that was all we could take on and we wanted it to stay local for the pilot year and so we stuck with St. Andrews,” explained Caputo-Nimbark. “There’s an annual opt-in, opt-out period where, if people decide they don’t want to common their land anymore, after a year they can pull out and anybody else can opt-in and common land.”
If more volunteers take part, the plan is for the CVC to expand outside of St. Andrews.
“Volunteers are absolutely the backbone of this, and the more volunteers we have, the more input we have, the more we can decide if we want to create a currency, like a local currency for example, or some kind of system where volunteer time credits can be exchanged for food, possibly even other products and services from local businesses,” explained Caputo-Nimbark. “But the idea for right now is that volunteers will help grow food and then we can collectively decide what we want to do with that food. That’s whether we donate to food banks, seniors' homes, give away or sell at markets, and if we sell at markets all the money will go back into the CVC.”
There will soon be a quicker way to access the information and learn more about the CVC.
“I think a Facebook page is very accessible to people. If people have ideas about other platforms I am open to it, but for now I think Facebook. In the spring at some point, I am going to make a page and then we can organize volunteer days, feed sharing, skill sharing, anything. People will be able to upload photos and even ask questions.”
Along with numerous events and volunteer-appreciation days, Caputo-Nimbark is considering compiling a collection of recipes.
“I was thinking about compiling recipes into a cookbook, and to make it available to anybody looking to extend their own menus at home, and hopefully inspire people to hopefully grow and eat more vegetables because there is so much food-related knowledge here, like cooking and growing vegetables, and I just want to be able to document it and make it accessible and compelling for future generations.”
Part of that accessibility includes stories and folklore.
“Beyond just growing the food, I want to use this folklore training I have for the past two years to inspire people to share stories and oral histories concerning foodways, commoning, and local economies,” said Caputo-Nimbark. “People who know me are probably sick of me asking them about families and customs because I am a newcomer here, and I truly won’t feel at home until I learn much more about the rich heritage and folklore of this region. I know commoning does happen still, even though it’s not called that now, so I want to draw attention to how valuable it can be for the economy and the environment.”
The rich soil and micro-climate of the Codroy Valley is a perfect spot to start growing for the future.
“We have so much space in the Codroy Valley and a lot of it is just sitting there, not being used. I look at all this amazing land and think, ‘we could absolutely be using it to grow more food for ourselves,’ and sometimes the shelves in the grocery stores, as we all know, are bare,” said Caputo-Nimbark. “It’s going bad, or overly-processed, all that stuff, and we all know the health problems in Newfoundland and Labrador, so this is just another effort to try and alleviate that.”
The support from the community thus far has been encouraging.
“A common response was, ‘well, yeah, I have so much land and I have been waiting for someone to do something with it,’ because a lot of people have acres and acres of land they just don’t use, and they are excited and touched that someone wants to make it productive.”
Planting has already begun for the coming season.
“We just started leeks and we will be starting several more things in the coming months, like tomatoes, peppers, pretty much everything, eggplant, you name it,” said Caputo-Nimbark. “We, ourselves, have a plot of land at Bert Bark that we are commoning, so I am so excited to see who comes to volunteer at our spot and other spots.”
Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News