Iris Vaisman, Prairie Coordinator, Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security interviewed on May 26, 2016 by Julie Price
In April, 2016 approximately 55 people attended one of two workshops in Leaf Rapids Manitoba. Workshops were focused on skill building related to gardening and green-housing in the northern boreal forest, and in having people share information and stories with each other about growing plants in the north. Approximately 50 of the participants were community members for 18 different northern Manitoba communities. Another 8 people were from various southern-based organizations that wish to help out and partner with northern communities as they work for improved food access and local food sovereignty. Both Iris and Julie attended this event.
The first thing that comes to mind is meeting everyone. It was a combination of people being really cool and nice, and the fact that I find what they are doing so interesting. It was great to learn about them as people, to learn their personal stories and histories, and to learn what they are doing around food.
Another thing I really liked was hearing about what can grow in the boreal north and the technical details of how to grow different plants. I was amazed at the diversity of the vegetables you can grow and the diversity of the food production methods. The technical side of horticulture stuff appealed to me. Also, hearing stories about hunting and fishing and other ways that people gather food from the land was really great.
The cooking session at the workshop was so great. I really enjoyed everyone’s company and cooking together. It was really fun. Just being up there and in the community was really great. It’s important to be there I think.
What would you have changed about the event? How?
The first thing that comes to mind is name tags. For someone like me, everyone was new and I wanted to remember their names and to connect with them.
There was a fair amount of sharing time, but it felt like there needed to be more sharing about what was happening at the beginning of the workshop – for people to talk more about what they are doing in their communities. Giving more time for people to share their own experiences instead of being as heavy as it was in learning from the presenters.
There was a lot of information that was covered. I think going slower and doing a bit less but in more depth would have been good. However, I also know that there is so much to cover and people had different interests.
There were a few people that I was able to talk to about the history of their communities. These conversations stood out to me. I spoke to Hilda at length and she told me about the story of South Indian Lake, and about life before and after the damn (Churchill River Diversion). These were new stories to me. I had thought about hydro in northern Manitoba, and knew it was disruptive, but now I realize a bit more about how disruptive it was to people and communities. I had never heard a story directly from a person who was so negatively affected. This was new to me.
What new ideas or thoughts do you have about northern horticulture?
I didn’t realize how many things you could grow up there! All of the root vegetables, brassicas, strawberries, barley, and so on. You can grow such a diversity of foods! I don’t think I would have made that connection without seeing it myself. I thought that only a few things could grow there because of the climate.
and there are so many types of seeds available. To me it was more informal seed saving relative to what I see in the south. But that is not a bad thing. Part of me thinks it’s really lovely and beautiful to save seeds this way, and sometimes I would like to keep things not as strict. I recognize that there is value to both approaches to seed saving.
How will this trip inform your work moving forward?
There were a few technical things that I learned there (carrot seed tape, micro greens) that I haven’t necessarily used yet to inform my work but I can see using the information in the future. There is an aspect of the story telling that will inform my work as well as technical information about food production. I learned a lot in general, knowledge-wise too.
I think part of it is related to the comment about thinking more holistically and thinking about being more comfortable in talking about climate change and speaking about all of the generations. I don’t know how that will come out in a concrete way, but I want to maintain that essence in my work.
Something that I have noticed that is different since I attended the workshop is that I bring it up in conversations. I attend conferences and meetings and I am sharing stories of where I have been, conversations I had with people, and things that I have learned about. Northern and Indigenous people, foods and food systems are not always well represented in the conversations or the workshops that I attend.