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A true community garden takes root in Tsa’xana

Tsa’xana First Nation residents typically have to grocery shop in Campbell River, 90 km away
Residents of Tsa’xana have to travel over an hour to Campbell River for groceries. Google Maps

The run on grocery stores at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was a real wake up call for the residents of Tsa’xana, a small First Nations community just outside of Gold River.

With no local grocery stores, people in the area have to make the 90 km trek into Campbell River everytime they need groceries. At the height of the panic buying, residents were left to go over whatever was left when they came into the city for their supplies.

However, a new intitiative is looking to change all that.

“If there was a food shortage on the Island, Campbell River would be empty by the time anyone here even got down to the grocery stores,” said Kristi Walker, the head gardener at a new community garden in Tsa’xana. “We saw it at the beginning of COVID how empty the shelves were in the produce department. They couldn’t keep up with the supply and demand. Potatoes were out for like two weeks because it’s something that keeps well on the shelf. We saw a mild case of what could happen, and we need to be able to take care of ourselves.”

The community had been discussing having a garden plot for years, but only after COVID-19 hit and some grant funding was made available for food security projects did it really get going. In May, Walker was able to get her hands on some wood to build garden boxes and after funding was finalized she began to work with the residents in earnest building what would become a pillar and gathering place in the small community.

“We’re calling it the Gathering Garden, and it’s a place to gather. There’s a little zone with some chairs, there’s an umbrella. I always bring snacks and it’s a really lovely place to come and chat and laugh and share and learn and snack and be nurtured,” she said.

Walker lives in the Comox Valley. This year, she started all of the seeds at home and transported all of the seedlings up to Tsa’xana when they were ready for planting. Next year she hopes the seedlings will be planted in a greenhouse at the site, which would make the community even more food secure.

“I want to grow winter crops so we can have fresh salad greens into the winter as long as we can and things like brassicas and broccoli,” she added.

Unlike other community gardens where individuals have their own plots that they use for their personal food, this one is a large garden designed around high yield that will help feed the entire community. Walker leads working days where those who are able come down and help. However, all of the food goes to help all of the community.

“I’m leading it, teaching, inspiring and sharing, but we grow food for everybody,” she said. “The elders that are unable to come and work in the garden still get food. The young moms that are busy with families at home that cant come and help will get food. It’s food for the whole community where those with the time and interest can come be a part of.”

Part of the project includes a massive pantry, which Walker says will be filled with preserved and canned foods. The area also has a freezer that gets stocked with meat in the winter. She will be holding classes to teach how to use the food, and how to preserve the harvest to make it through the winter.

“They’re so lucky and fortunate about the abundance of wild food. There’s unlimited salmon and elk and deer. With having the protein covered, getting the garden is going to be taking care of all the fresh food,” she said. “We’ll be doing workshops and traditional foods as well. We’ll do a huge salmon canning day and really stock up this pantry so that people don’t need to go to the store to buy jam. They’ll have jam right there that they helped make that’s healthier.”

Food security is not just about ensuring a supply of food. It’s about making sure a group of people can use a system to fend for themselves. Building that community resilience is essential to a communal food security system.

“We need to know where our food’s coming from and we need to be able to had the skills going back to our roots of growing our own food,” she said. “If there was ever another big disaster, the island would be shut off. Food would not make it over on the ferries and we need the skills in how to grow and preserve our own food so we can take care of ourselves.”

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