There is no grocery store in Sherridon and the trip to Flin Flon takes more than an hour when roads are good. Since 2014, the community has established a number of food focused projects to address this challenge. In 2014 a community fishing program was started, and a community chicken coop was built. In 2015 Kitchwapaw Clan Mothers’ garden and a filleting shack were established and in 2016 the community built a smokehouse and acquired additional meat processing equipment. Food Matters Manitoba has been a helpful partner in this work. They have provided financial management of the grants, sourcing and arranging equipment and transportation.
The equipment and infrastructure is located on private property so that it can be monitored and kept secure. Even with these considerations, there have been challenges. In 2015, just as we were getting ready to harvest 200 mature chickens, all but one of the chickens were bird-napped in the middle of the night. This was very discouraging but didn’t stop us from raising birds again the following year.
Building the chicken coop, filleting shack and smokehouse took help and some creative thinking. Neighbours and families worked together. Larry said of the smoke shack “Pearl’s brother came and helped and the building was up in four days, including pouring the concrete pad. We piped the wood stove so that it could be used to heat the filleting shack when it is not being used in the smokehouse. This is better than purchasing two stoves and it wasn’t hard to move the small stove.” The food processing infrastructure is a gathering place. People who moved away 10 years ago for lack of work have come back to use the processing equipment and to visit. Stories are shared while fish and meats are being processed. Many of the people who were using it this year were people who grew up on that food and they had missed living on that kind of food. People were already complaining within a month that we should have gotten more fish and smoked more because their families were just gobbling it up. Fish patties made with ground fish were a particular hit with the kids.
Between fish, moose and caribou meat, approximately 1,600 pounds was smoked in the first season. The amount of food that is gathered and preserved is big. It reduces the amount of time and money people would otherwise have to spend leaving the community to go spend in the grocery store. The smokehouse keeps more of our resources locally.
Many people are remembering their skills and even learning some new ones. There are not too many kids helping with the processing yet, though in the fall of 2016 when the Collaborative funder group visited Sherridon, two local nine-year-olds, River and Steven, showed the visitors how to process chickens and fillet fish. We had 5 or 6 of the smaller kids (6 to 10 year olds) who were in with us helping make the sausage. They got to fill the grinder and make the sausage. One little girl was able to identify that it was moose meat just from the smell of the raw meat. Maybe this year we would work with the Youth Centre and the Kids Come First committee to do some workshops for the kids to learn this stuff.
One of the challenges with these projects is maintaining consistent help and planning efforts. There is initial excitement when the chicks arrive, but while the chickens are growing the support from others tends to slow down. Come harvest time people are there to help. In 2017, the smokehouse people are planning to go out and cut wood together so there isn’t a shortage. There is a back-up propane system for the smokehouse but it leaves a different taste in the meat.
The community has struggled with how to advertise and share the food processing resources. Long standing divides between some families make community harmony an ongoing challenge. In 2016, the rules, expectations and procedures for requesting time in the smoke shack were posted at the community council office.
For the future, there are plans to add a few more sets of racks to the smokehouse and hangers to hang sausage in there as well. That can be done with local materials. We also hope to get boarded community support and involve the Kids Come First committee in the projects by doing more workshops with the kids and teaching them how to use the tools. The chicken coop will continue to have about 200 birds per year, with people giving a small donation for the birds so that there is enough money to get chicks and feed for the following year.
To find out more about Sharing More Food From the Land please read here.
To find out more about other community partners please read here.