I was happy to read recently that a new project has been launched in northern Ontario that will help First Nation people have access to healthier foods and vegetables. Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), Quality Market and True North Community Co-operative (TNCC) announced a partnership to bring fresh-food options to First Nation communities, including communities along the James Bay coast.

The project intends to ship Co-Operative Community Supported Agriculture (CCSA) boxes to northern NAN First Nations. The food boxes will contain items, such as locally produced whole wheat/rye flour, barley pancake mix, bran muffin mix, whole-wheat pizza dough, oats, natural cheese, local honey, herbal teas, and local naturally raised beef along with fruits, vegetables, rice and beans.

The project is intended to run over the summer and make deliveries to the seven NAN First Nations of Attawapiskat, Bearskin Lake, Fort Albany, Fort Severn, Muskrat Dam, Peawanuck and Kashechewan. These First Nations are supported by Nutrition North Canada, a federal-government-run program that aims to provide nutritious, perishable foods accessible to Canadians living in isolated northern communities. Wow, now that is a big change.

It is good to hear that there are organizations and businesses out there that are willing to take the energy and effort to help our remote First Nation communities in this way. TNCC is a good fit for this project as the non-profit organization provides opportunities for regional producers and access to these goods for Northern Ontarians. Quality Market is also perfectly matched to the partnership since it is a local market grocer in Thunder Bay that is run and maintained by owners and operators with a long family history of working in northern Ontario.

This new service is long overdue as my people up the James Bay coast have been eating poorly for many years. The cost of food is high in the north due to the fact that everything has to be flown into the community. Canned, pre-packed, nitrate-rich foods are the cheapest products to ship because they are filling, compact, cheap, durable and can be stored for a long time. Fresh products, such as vegetables or fresh meats, are very expensive because they are fragile, need proper storage and they are not durable products to ship.

I worked with my brothers and my dad in the transportation business in Attawapiskat when I was a teenager. We hauled all the food products off the aircraft and delivered them to the local Northern Store every week. When I look back on what we pulled out of that plane I realize that almost half of it was cans, the rest were plastic containers and a small portion arrived as fresh vegetables and meat.

Our meals when we were growing up were filling but not always the most nutritious. Mom did her best to feed the 11 of us. It was a constant struggle for her and dad to find the means to buy expensive fresh meat, fruit and vegetables at the store. This meant that we did not have many vegetables or fruit in our diet. It was a good thing we could supplement our diet with wild meats, such as caribou, moose, goose and plenty of fish. When I think about it, we probably received more nutrition from the foods we collected from the land than anything we bought at the store. However, in the long run, the amount of energy, time and effort it took to gather this wild food still meant a lot of expense and we had to do it when we had time away from work and making a living.

Historically, First Nation people in the far north always had a struggle to find, collect and store food mostly due to the harsh and rugged environment we inhabited. Once Europeans arrived we were exposed to a new way of eating and over the years more and more processed foods became a staple in our diet.

In our modern world, cheap food has led many people to unhealthy diets that foster all sorts of medical problems that have to do with diabetes, heart disease and obesity. We were never capable of growing our own vegetables and fruit up north mainly because of the cold climate. So this program of providing fresh foods to my people is a good start to creating a more healthy diet.

Meegwetch to our NAN leadership for making life a little better for all of us on the James Bay coast. Now, what about putting some greenhouses up and doing it ourselves?