Produce Availability project bears fruit

The Heart and Stroke foundation received a BC Premiere’s award in September for its work bringing sustainable fresh fruit and vegetable sources to remote communities.

The Produce Availability in Remote Communities Initiative (PAI) kicked off in 2009 and was initially scheduled to last just three years but so much successful momentum was built up during that time that the Province agreed to fund two more years. The First Nations Health Authority recently took the ball and has agreed to fund the program further.

The project’s lead Jammi Kumar told the Westerly that bringing fresh fruit and vegetable sources to remote First Nation communities was a no-brainer in terms of positive impacts.

“We can help, with very little money, change the lives of people,” he said.

“There’s lots of problems going on in the First Nations in terms of preventable diseases,

like diabetes, and it’s all related to nutrition; better health, that’s all that was necessary.”

Backed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s leadership and with funding from the Ministry of Health in hand, Kumar brought the program to about 20 remote communities in an effort to increase health and lessen the impact of preventable diseases.

“We could spend millions of dollars trying to treat the problem clinically, but the solution is outside the medical field; it’s lifestyle and that’s what we were able to do with this project,” he said.

“We selected the most remote communities who were having the most difficulty in accessing fresh healthy food.”

Among these communities were the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, Ahousaht First Nation, and Hesquiaht First Nation, and Kumar said all three started with community gardens.

“Luckily in all these three communities we have champions who spearheaded this program, made this thing happen and brought the community together,” Kumar said.

“Each community has a different way of doing it but all of them have had an impact…Without those champions in the community, the community engagement which was the key ingredient cannot happen.”

One of these champions was Diane Ignace who lives on the Hesquiaht Peninsula, a two-hour boat-ride away from Tofino.

Ignace had kicked off a community garden and through the PAI initiative received the tools she needed to make her garden thrive and grow into a facility that now boasts 16 gardens, a new greenhouse, and a storage shed to help with year-long resiliency.

Kumar said the project was successful in each of the communities it was introduced to because community members embraced it.

“This project did not go from the Heart and Stroke Foundation into the First Nations from the top down, it came from the community up,” he said.

“We would go there and spread the idea and the communities themselves would prepare the plan and find their own coordinators and create their own vision…They had a genuine feeling, need and urge to change their lives and when the community gets engaged, it has success.” Kumar is confident the projects started in each community will be sustainable and added the groundwork to apply for additional funding from other sources has already been laid.

“We are hoping these communities who have embarked on these community food plans will be successful in getting external funding from outside sources because we have proved it is viable,” he said. “We have proved that it is successful beyond reasonable doubt; everybody’s seeing it.”

He was stoked to receive word that the First Nations Health Authority has agreed to fund the project for another three years and said the project’s reach would expand to other communities and could potentially become a Canada-wide effort.

reporter@westerlynews.ca