Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems, which is a partnership between the university and the Tsawwassen First Nation, will be packing and delivering food grown on the program’s farm to the Kekinow Native Housing Society in Surrey and the Pacific Immigrant Resources Society in Vancouver to help those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kwantlen Polytechnic University photos)

Tsawwassen farm school to help feed vulnerable communities

KPU’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems to give food grown on its farm to those in need

A Tsawwassen-based farm school is donating fresh food to help support vulnerable communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS), which is a partnership between the university and the Tsawwassen First Nation, will be packing and delivering food grown on the program’s farm to the Kekinow Native Housing Society in Surrey and the Pacific Immigrant Resources Society (PIRS) in Vancouver.

“The Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at KPU is committed to advancing the regional food system through supporting food security initiatives of community organizations. Community collaboration is central to our approach and much of our work is based on listening to the needs of communities,” Caroline Chiu, projects manager at ISFS, said in a press release.

The ISFS farm school opened in 2015, with the TFN offering KPU a 20-acre parcel of land at 28th Avenue to establish a working and teaching farm to grow vegetables and be a classroom for students. According to the program’s website, the first-of-its-kind farm school fuses sustainable agriculture and traditional Indigenous food systems as tools to build community and create dialogue around land stewardship for the future.

The program teaches students the art and science of regenerative agriculture and currently includes a traditional medicine garden, a mixed fruit orchard, a market garden, livestock — including chickens, pigs and ducks — and incubator plots on which program graduates can launch their farm businesses.

During the 2019 farming season, an ISFS project involving three Indigenous communities tested whether systemic challenges such as food insecurity and food access affect the health of vulnerable populations.

“We provided fresh vegetable boxes throughout the whole season to investigate whether there will be any changes to health, diet, lifestyle and eating habits by removing the food access barrier,” Chiu said. “The feedback and results were positive.”

Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has created another layer of stress for these families to get fresh produce. With new funding from Community Food Centres Canada, ISFS is providing vegetable boxes to 18 families on a weekly basis for 20 weeks throughout the growing season.

“In April and May 2020, PIRS staff reached out to 350 immigrant and refugee women in the Metro Vancouver area and found that they are struggling. From these conversations we understood that 50 per cent of immigrant and refugee families are facing increased stress from loss of income and growing anxiety about financial and housing instability,” Valerie Lai, program coordinator at PIRS, said in a press release.

“Eighty-seven per cent of these women are feeling isolated and mentally exhausted and have expressed a need for one-to-one support to navigate government emergency benefits and to access healthy food and other basic necessities.”

Pam O’Neill, a cultural outreach worker at Kekinow Native Housing, said the organization is working with low-income Indigenous families who are also experiencing anxiety about leaving their homes and a heightened fight-or-flight response related to inter-generational trauma.

“This additional stress exacerbates previously existing conditions over represented in Indigenous families, such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis,” O’Neill said in a press release. “Additionally, families are living on modest means and are struggling to stay prepared for various outcomes.”

As a partnership initiative with Tsawwassen First Nation, the farm school will also be donating vegetables to the TFN Elders Centre and its Food Stability Program, which was created due to the pandemic.

“We are thrilled to be able to support these families and communities, and should we receive more funding throughout the year, we will reach out to more people,” Chiu said.

“In the short term, we hope that this will help alleviate some stress and put healthy, nutritious food on the tables of these families. But in the long term, we hope to see a change in eating habits and consumer behaviour when grocery shopping, which will in turn support the local food system.”

For more information on the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems, visit kpu.ca/isfs.

RELATED: Food insecurity hits laid off workers, households with kids harder amid pandemic: StatsCan



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