Bonne Bay South Integrated Food Systems Initiative

Project Summary

Much of outport Newfoundland might be understood as a ‘food desert’ in terms of year round access to fresh produce. This project aims to address this circumstance while also dealing with household organize waste, capturing the social benefits of a thriving community integrated food system, and engaging the educational opportunities imbedded in the project. Developing this integrated  sustainable food systems initiative features a year-round passive greenhouse, rejuvenated industrial and domestic composting system, healthy food provisioning and enhanced food learning for school and community, and local food sourcing for food services industry.

Partners

The Sustainable Food Systems project is one of our central prototype projects for the Liminus Institute. Due to scale and complexity, its success relies on high levels of partnership development. These include:

Woody Point Public School – The school is participating in two ways: First, donating a site large enough to locate the 42’ greenhouse adjacent the school. Second, we are working with Food First NL (Farm to School program) and the NL Federation of Agriculture (Little Green Thumbs initiative) to develop curriculum based in the greenhouse, so its use and care form experiential teaching modules. This curriculum opportunity involves elements of soil science, plant science, climate science, nutrition, composting, food security, food miles, carbon footprints, and, crucially, a historical view of community gardens and self-provisioning in rural Newfoundland. The school component is central to driving larger community value.

Town of Woody Point – Woody Point has a proactive municipal staff that has spearheaded a series of different issues related to the greenhouse. In terms of municipal waste management challenges, attempts at developing a composting program began to thrive several years ago only to collapse under its own weight – too much organic matter, without proper processing and use. Similarly the local fishplant is proposing to dump fish offal into the bay. Both these sources will be incorporated into an industrial composting initiative that will help drive larger food provisioning strategy (both within the greenhouse and with other local gardeners) and holds strong commercial potential.

Public/Community Health Nurse for Bonne Bay South – Rural NL experiences high rates of diet related illnesses. Fresh fruits and vegetables are relatively inaccessible with the nearest grocery store 67 km away. In this regard, rural Newfoundland can be understood within the larger literature on ‘food deserts’ typically applied to urban neighborhoods. While a once-healthy culture of self-provisioning, this has been consistently waning in rural outports. The Community health nurse in Woody Point, Melissa Blanchard, sits on the advisory committee for the Liminus Project, and is a key driver of the Community Action Committee that has started several progressive initiatives connecting food with health, community development, sustainability and cultural identity. We are working together to connect these initiatives with the food systems project.

Commercialization – Restaurants – The restaurants in Woody Point are independently-owned and primarily cater to the tourism industry, an environmentally-minded market. We propose that restaurants serving produce grown through this community initiative will be a value-add for this industry. Regional Agricultural – Cormack agriculture is a close client for cheap organic compost.

Grenfell’s Environmental Policy Unit – Creating a high profile experiment in year-round passive produce production is a crucial aspect for food security research across the province and in northern climates more generally. We will be working with graduate students at Memorial University’s EPI (Grenfell campus) to examine agricultural, social, and commercial aspects, along with governance and implementation challenges of this initiative.

Benefits to the Region

This discussion of partnerships identifies many of the regional benefits of this project. In review, we anticipate the following outcomes:

  • Installation of a $50 000 year-round passive greenhouse in Woody Point. These greenhouses were developed in partnership with the John Denver Foundation, and can grow produce in up to -20 degree weather without any input of energy. If this works in Newfoundland it could revolutionize local food sourcing in rural communities across the province. It is important to note, this initiative is not an experiment in industrial scale food production that would require gaining significant market share to be feasible, this is about creating direct access to fresh produce at a community level.
  • Development of school curriculum K-12
  • Enhanced community awareness of food related issues (measurable net increase in areas of health, sustainability, social capital, and overall well-being)
  • Reduction of household and industrial waste that is about to contaminate the bay through a revitalized industrial composting program
  • Post-secondary research on innovative approaches to food, health, community social capital, food security, etc. and the role of a systems approach in achieving success on each separate indicator
  • A white paper developed to identify clear steps to replicate this project in other rural communities. This will include setting up and operating the systems we put in place (year-round passive greenhouse technology, industrial composting systems, food storage systems, etc.) as well as the programs and partnerships that keep these systems thriving.

Liminus Learning

1. Accelerate learning – How do we learn from this?

This project puts intense pressure on our team to engage the community and mobilize various elements of its internal capacity (education, health, municipal governance, etc.). We also confront challenges of infrastructure in both capital and operational phases. This prototype forces us to integrate various disciplines into a single coherent system (energy, waste, health, social capital, education, arts, and cultural heritage), and it combines motivating collective behaviour (food sharing, school curriculum, etc.) with individual behaviour (composting, dietary changes, consumer behaviour, etc.). Working with grad students from the EPI also helps us learn how to integrate student research projects in our activities.

2. Develop Concept – How does this clarify the concept in our partner’s eyes?

More than any of our other prototypes, the crux of this project lies fundamentally in how well we manage to integrate its component parts into our community and its local agencies. Therefore, this prototype represents a terrific opportunity to establish local roots and strong social capital, and to communicate the spirit of Liminus in highly grounded and relevant ways.

Given the number of partnerships in this prototype (community, public schools, several government agencies, health officials, restaurants, and post-secondary capacity) its potential to drive network development and network learning is high. Furthermore it illustrates to the community why the systems thinking elements of the Liminus vision is crucial to the success of these ‘change oriented’ initiatives. For example, the composting program was started in isolation several years ago and collapsed. Restarting the program integrated it into a full food systems cycle aims to show the degree to which systems thinking necessitates and supports its constituent parts and helps shift out of path-dependent ‘business as usual’ approaches.

Finally, incorporating all these themes into various levels of school curriculum, K-12, not only involves the heart of the community in the set up of this strategy, but in its ongoing operations as well. It is important to note that this project came from our community partners. When we approached our local collaborators with various options to operationalize the Liminus strategy, food systems and an integration with the public school was their clear priority.

3. Manage Risk – What is this a smaller piece of?

This project involves a whole series of community-level systems changes in order to move towards an integrated sustainable alternative (in this case as pertains to food. However, waste, water, or energy systems could form comparable examples). Integrating the installation of novel infrastructure that is dependent on establishing a larger system of which it is a part in order to function, while at the same time driving a larger shift in values and behaviour at a community level is a perfect microcosm of the larger Liminus vision of what rural regenerative sustainability might look like.

What is particularly appealing about this project is its potential to both scale up and scale out, both in driving the larger Liminus development, but also replicating itself in other contexts. In other words, this project will help us move collaboratively as a region towards our identified exercise in regional sustainability. However, at the same time, the lessons we learn here are replicable in other communities as well, and part of our mandate will be to replicate the project across the Island (in partnership with the provincial agencies assisting us in this prototype).