Indigenous communities across the province were hit hard by food chain disruptions caused by COVID-19 and last year’s myriad natural disasters.
But many groups are working together to produce food locally while also bringing Indigenous farming roots to light.
“There is a lack of recognition that there are many Indigenous people that are very engaged in agriculture. My great-grandparents were ranchers in the Shuswap, and we are still very much engaged in agriculture in the province,” says agrologist Jennifer Grenz, an assistant professor at UBC in the faculties of Forestry and Land and Food Systems.
“We are the original farmers and food growers and used a lot of sophisticated technology,” she says. “Our methods of shaping our lands and waters to provide everything that people needed has a far longer history than the settler agrarian history of our province. It’s orders of magnitude shorter.”
While all producers are stewards of their land and animals, Grenz says the Indigenous approach to food production was a holistic one that could help make current systems more resilient.
“As we face a changing climate and all the challenges associated with that – supply chain disruptions, costs of food – we need to be looking to those practices that sustained people for much longer to inform our practices moving forward,” she says.
It’s a perspective that hasn’t always had a place in policy discussions, however.
A new committee set up to advise and guide the province’s regenerative agriculture and agritech strategy is helping to change that, however.
The committee’s 17 members were named by BC agriculture minister Lana Popham on June 14. She says they bring diverse backgrounds and expertise in food production that will help create a more resilient food system.
Jacob Beaton, co-owner and operator of Tea Creek, a land-based and Indigenous-led training initiative in Kitwanga focused on food sovereignty and trades training is one of 17 committee members announced June 14.
“Regenerative agriculture was and has been practised by Indigenous people and Nations in the Americas for thousands of years,” Beaton says in the release. “I’m excited to bring an Indigenous farming perspective to this important and timely group as we help shape the future of BC agriculture.”
Tea Creek recently won the Real Estate Foundation of BC’s Food Lands award. Established in 2019, the farm team trains and mentors over 1,000 people each year. It gifted more than 20,000 pounds of food to the community in 2021.