NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — Twenty per cent of families in Canada live below the poverty line — a statistic that rises to a staggering 33 per cent in North Battleford, according to 2016 census data.
The 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey indicates that, among off-reserve indigenous people 12 years and older, 22 per cent live in households that experience food insecurity — three times that of the non-indigenous population. First Nations people are also more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.
Health complications associated with food insecurity range from malnutrition to obesity. It may appear contradictory, but it is precisely those who experience food insecurity who are more likely to suffer from obesity. One reason for this apparent anomaly is that people with lower incomes generally have reduced access to food that is affordable and healthy, and so they turn to low-cost, high-calorie foods instead.
Low-income families face many obstacles in following a nutritious diet, including limited access to fresh produce. The St. Mary Community School garden is an ongoing project dedicated to changing this situation.
In a school where 93 per cent of the student population is First Nations or Métis, the community emphasizes the need to foster healthy physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual development among students and staff alike.
The school believes that healthy connectedness through strong relationships with parents and the school community leads to greater engagement, knowledge, and opportunity to gain new perspectives for the benefit of everyone. Healthy students learn better, and educated students are healthier.
St. Mary students are involved in the construction and maintenance of a garden, product selection and cultivation, and meal preparation. Their enthusiasm for growing their own food has become increasingly evident. It is seen not only as a noble endeavour, but as a means to achieve improved overall health, better problem-solving skills, and an interest in food sustainability, which leads, in turn, to environmental sustainability.
Since 2006, the Aboriginal population has grown by 42.5 per cent — more than four times the growth rate of the non-Aboriginal population over the same period. According to projections, the Aboriginal population will continue to grow quickly, and in the next two decades is likely to exceed 2.5 million persons with proportionally more children and youth and fewer seniors.
Traditional teachings and knowledge are at risk, but growing food demonstrates that they are not lost: they are relevant now and will remain so as we and future generations learn to cherish our role as stewards of the earth. The St. Mary’s School community garden demonstrates that students who think critically, ask questions, plan, sort, test, and investigate develop higher literacy skills, better decision-making skills, and make more informed choices.
Like the mustard seed, the garden will grow and thrive, creating healthy youth who are committed to investing in themselves and their community.