How a local farmers' market is getting healthy meals on the tables of Abegweit First Nation

·3 min read
Melody Swan carries fresh vegetables into the Abeqweit Wellness Centre in Scotchfort, P.E.I. (Isabelle Gallant/CBC - image credit)
Melody Swan carries fresh vegetables into the Abeqweit Wellness Centre in Scotchfort, P.E.I. (Isabelle Gallant/CBC - image credit)

A partnership between the Charlottetown Farmers' Market and Abegweit First Nation is helping get more local, fresh foods into the hands of community members.

Every two weeks, the market provides ingredients from local farmers for meal boxes that are then handed out to the Indigenous community, along with recipes.

The program is funded by a federal grant through the Good Food Access Fund, a $20-million initiative aimed at delivering good food to vulnerable populations across the country.

Rachel Decourcey, who lives in the Abegweit community with her partner and four kids, says the meal boxes have been a big hit.

"It's a lovely thing that they do for all of us every month … it's new recipes for at home, learning new things, cooking with different foods," she said.

"I find that it's more healthier foods, it's introducing healthy meals for families, which is really good. I have six people in my home so I love introducing new things to them."

Isabelle Gallant/CBC
Isabelle Gallant/CBC

Decourcey says she tries to buy local as much as she can, but feeding a family of six is challenging with rising food costs.

"It's an extra meal on the table for us, and most times it's leftovers for us," she said.

"Every month it's very exciting. It's like Christmas when we get home, opening up the box to see what's in it … and it's kind of a surprise of what we're going to get … so it helps out a lot."

Isabelle Gallant/CBC
Isabelle Gallant/CBC

Melody Swan, a registered dietitian and the health promotion co-ordinator at the Abegweit Mi'kmaq Wellness Centre in Scotchfort, says the program reaches 55 families every two weeks.

"Sometimes local food isn't the most accessible, especially out here in Scotchfort, it can be somewhat of a food desert," she said.

"So it's incorporating local healthy food in a way that people wouldn't be buying on a regular basis. Lots of people have big families so buying new foods isn't often a top priority. So it's just helping people have healthy, balanced foods."

'Increase food literacy'

She said the program aims to provide more fruits and vegetables to community members while supporting local farmers as well.

"Really, we just began this to increase food literacy within the community, to get people making food again," she said.

"It's really a difficult time with COVID and everything, and even just to incorporate making healthy foods is such a huge thing right now. So I just really want to encourage that, and to get local foods into their diet as much as possible."

Isabelle Gallant/CBC
Isabelle Gallant/CBC

Swan also posts cooking videos on Facebook using the recipes so residents can follow along.

"I think that's important because a lot of people are very visual and storytelling is a very important thing too," she said.

Lena Teichrib, manager of the Charlottetown Farmers' Market Co-op, says connecting vendors with the community is integral to the market's mission.

"We always say 'support local, come to the market,' but the farmers' market concept is to support local both ways — we support local farmers and we support the local community we are in," she said.

"We want to connect the farmers and the community, all groups of Islanders, not just people that are able to come to the market."

Everyone lends a hand

Teichrib has made the occasional trip out to Abegweit on meal box delivery days, pitching in and seeing first-hand how the program is helping the community.

"It really helps you understand where the food goes, how is it going to be distributed? … It helps to see the whole picture."

That support, says Swan, is key to the program's success. Everyone lends a hand on meal box delivery days, from the chief and council, to nurses, staff members, market staff and local farmers.

"It's chaos but it's organized chaos, and everyone is getting their meals so it's really cool."

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