People and programs 07/16/2021

On June 21, we announced our partnership with Turnor Lake & Birch Narrows Community Food Centre—the third CFC in an Indigenous community. Shortly before the announcement, Program Manager Rebecca Sylvestre spoke with us about her journey to build a Community Food Centre in Turnor Lake, Saskatchewan.

We used to live in a settlement called Clear Lake, and a lot of the food we ate was grown by the Elders. One day, the government told us they could no longer get electricity to our community, so we had to move to Turnor Lake where the land was different—it was rocky. We couldn’t grow the same things, and our traditions stopped. 

While I was researching supports for our community, it was important to me that we create a learning centre where we could teach people how to plant, grow, and cook. Because we lost all that traditional knowledge over time. 

Then I came across the Community Food Centre model. It had everything I was looking for—fresh food, educational programs, community support, everything we needed to help each other learn and bring our culture back. 

But the pandemic took a toll on our community. We couldn’t leave. We were lined up outside the store in the winter, waiting for food that wasn’t even there. 

Then the money from Community Food Centres Canada’s Good Food Access Fund came. We were safe. Food boxes were coming. Elders were getting meat and fish. We could send hunters out on the land again. 

It was the busiest time of my life and I loved it. I’ll never forget Jackie, our incredible volunteer, lifting and carrying big boxes of meat to people’s houses.

Last spring, we also began an initiative to help people start their own gardens by handing out supplies like gardening tools and packages of seeds. All of a sudden every backyard was getting dug up for a garden. Our community has gone from three to 63 gardens and counting. Soon the corner store will have lots of veggies for sale because everyone will be eating their own! 

And our Community Food Centre programming—where do I begin?

What started as a canning workshop became so much more. A mother and son baking program, a father and daughter cooking class, meals with Elders, nutrition workshops with a dietitian, fixing workshops with hunters.

Many of our Elders are getting arthritis in their hands, and they can’t fix the ducks anymore. So we applied for a grant and we’re using it to buy a duck plucker to pluck the feathers. Now our Elders can take the ducks straight from their door to be cooked. 

We teach youth—from the kids at the daycare centre all the way up to the high school—how to make dry meat. We give the really young kids plastic knives so they get to experience everything, from fixing to smoking to eating the meat. 

The Elders, they mean the world to me. All their lives, they’ve given to their children and grandchildren. They lost their kids to residential schools. They never gave up on us, so why should we give up on them? We need to be there for them. Every time I do a food box delivery to Elders, I bring one of the youth with me. Because they need to experience this.

In our community when a program starts, it usually lasts for a little while but then the funding is gone and the program stops. With our new Community Food Centre, but that’s not happening now. People have hope, they can see something is happening and it’s not going away.” 

— Rebecca Sylvestre, Program Manager, Turnor Lake & Birch Narrows Community Food Centre