Anyone who’s ever spent a little time in a nursing home or senior’s residence, speaking with residents has no doubt had a chance to delight in the pleasures of the past. As we all know, times were often hard. But there were sprinkles of joy throughout. And nestled amidst the myriad elements speaking of the often this foreign way of life, are valuable lessons we can apply to our lives in the here and now.
Learning From the Past
Where I live in Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador, shared words have highlighted the joys and woes of lives lived decades ago. They touched on harvesting the bounty of gardens and the berrypicking trips amidst the lengthening shadows of August and September. Along with fishing and purchasing food stocks in the autumn, these actions helped to ensure a secure source of food over the winter.
In hearing these words, the concerns of the past invariably merge with present ones. The reminiscences of routines and traditions from previous years are inherently intertwined with current and widespread ideas and concerns for food security. How can such connections inform our understanding and ability to address food security and related community sustainability?
Challenges to Our Food Security
We’ve become increasingly aware of our food, from where that food comes and in general, the notion of food security. The Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador’s concept of food security mirror’s that of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. It states how food security “exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate food to maintain a healthy and active life.” The issues that surround food security are undoubtedly complex.
Right here in Newfoundland and Labrador, these issues gather around sometimes intractable concerns. We’ve the lowest number of farms, we only have a 2-3 day supply of food if the ferries are delayed, we import 71% of the food we eat, 13.4% of households are food insecure,1 more than 26,000 (or 5% in the province) rely of food banks, our province has the highest rate of heart attacks in Canada, we generally eat fewer veggies and fruits, and we have the highest rate of diabetes in the country. Many places around the world may not share these specific difficulties, but they will likely have their own share of challenges.
Responding to Food Insecurity
However stubborn and grave the problems, solutions can still be found in initiatives that begin close to home, extending outward to encompass the wider world. So, closer to home, my experiences when speaking with seniors spoke of how the daily routines of gardening and food gathering, such as berrypicking, sought to achieve what we now regard as food security.
At present, if we peer behind homes in Placentia or other communities, we often spy gardens that offer the fruits of labour—beets, potatoes, tomatoes, turnips and so on. Around Newfoundland and Labrador, a host of communities have also chosen to plant a community garden. To do so is a potentially an enriching, motivating and educational endeavour. Going to our plot at the community garden, we’ll meet friends, exchange ideas, and maybe even learn a new trick.
Harmonising Food System
Food First NL has also identified a five part food system that must work in harmony. Consisting of production, distribution, access, consumption and disposal, it is essential for us to ensure all components of this system are working smoothly and in harmony. If some element of distribution is impeded, for us, say the ferries are blocked by high wind, then the access to the food will be affected. Likewise, in some other part of the world, perhaps the distribution of the food has been negatively affected. Then, consequently, so will the access to that food. As you can see, our focus needs to be guaranteeing all elements work together. If so, our relationship with our food is then sustainable.
Before doing so, there are many things we’d need to improve in the province and country as a whole. We need to improve our support for farmers to make it a viable way of life. We need to strengthen our controls on the use of pesticides, the cost of feed and fertiser, seeds and more. There is a lot of room for improvement.
Still, there is always hope. Much as people have done in the past, residents and visitors to the community can have an increasingly assured access to safe and nutritious food. Alongside such efforts, for the community in general, by maintaining the heritage of gardens, we are collectively working to enhance different elements of the food system. We’re taking a further step toward food security and by extension, the sustainability of communities.
A Way to Sustainability
Invariably, food security and sustainability work hand in hand. As enshrined in the Sustainable Development Act (SNL2007 CHAPTER S-34) for Newfoundland and Labrador, sustainability refers to “the capacity of a thing, action, activity or process to be maintained indefinitely in a manner consistent with the future use, enjoyment and development of natural resources.” When we work towards food security by planting and growing our food, we can also help make certain that subsequent generations have access to the food they need to survive and thrive in their community.
The reminiscences of seniors who may now live in places such as the Lions Manor Nursing Home are perhaps reminders for us all. Their words signal that efforts made decades ago hold the key to current concerns. It is in our interest to cultivate the growing connections between past and present, for such connections can yield both the sustainability and contentment of our communities.
1Food insecurity means a household has an insecure access to adequate food due to financial constraints.