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The Food Sovereignty Project in its Evolving Phase

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Jean Murphy

Local Press Initiative reporter

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TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY – There is a small roadside table in Tyendinaga Mohawk County, along York Road next to the town offices. On it there are piles of fresh fruits and vegetables. If you are driving too fast, or maybe even closing your eyes, you may miss it.

That’s because Kenhte: ke Kanyen’keha: ka Food Sovereignty Project, like its roadside shows, is in what we might call a growing stage.

The project, the creation of Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte band member Andrew Brant and his wife, Renee, seeks to provide the territory with year-round fresh produce, as well as revitalize the soil to improve the quality of life for future generations.

“In Tyendinaga, we are about half an hour away from any fresh produce,” Brant said beside his blossoming garden on a sunny afternoon as time passed. Price and access to fresh food isn’t an area-specific problem, but one that Brant and the company hope to eliminate. “When it comes to seniors, they can’t necessarily get[fresh food out of reserve]. There are people here who can’t or won’t leave their homes. So there’s a need for that,” Brant said.

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Lush Cosmetics’ charitable grant program gave the project the boost it needed to take it from seed to seedling.

“They[give us]$17,000 to buy a greenhouse and clean up that land here,” Brant said, pointing to the cleared driveway where a greenhouse is waiting to be built.

But before that can happen, more money is needed to expand the project into the year-round initiative that Brandt envisions. In fact, the project needs another $8000 to build a base on which the greenhouse will be placed, as well as to obtain the organic materials needed to start the gardens. This will allow fresh food to be grown year-round, starting this winter.

“Then we can continue to produce probably upwards of 65 to 70 pounds per week of fresh produce,” Brant said.

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Food produced so far—except for what the rabbits lost before a wire fencing was put in place to protect fresh goods—is freely available to anyone living inside or outside the reserve. Brant sets a table every Wednesday (weather permitting) to distribute fresh food, and also delivers it to those in need in his community.

“We have some that go to the seniors’ hostel, we make it go to different members of the community and we’ve donated to the community food resource center as well,” he said. “We’re also making it available to people who are out of the area because not everyone has a place in the area yet.”

Brant also spoke to the MBQ Council about providing land for the project to further expand its efforts.

“The council is doing a really good job working with us,” he revealed, adding that the council is looking at land the project could use for expansion. “We’ll be able to set up another greenhouse there, maybe a 100-foot greenhouse, and then we’ll be able to set up another greenhouse in another year.”

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Besides food offerings, the project aims to revitalize the soil in the community and its surrounding watershed. The soil used in the gardens is mixed with organic materials such as aquariums and coffee grounds from Two Row Coffee Company, which funds the project entirely outside of grants and donations.

“When we look at the entire Quint Bay watershed, we have all these lakes and these rivers and streams that flow into Quente Bay,” Brant said, adding that industrialization and population increases have changed the watershed, which runs through the Tendinaga Mohawk Territory.

“It not only affects us in the area, it affects the settlers around us as well,” he said. The use of fungal and organic materials, if used in enough areas and by enough people, can create cleaner runoff and permanently alter watersheds, Brant said.

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“We (are applying) for a climate change grant so we can make the whole project greener, use turbines, things like that. We want to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible,” Brant said.

While Brandt is certainly the driving force and vision behind the project, he dreams of making the project a community effort.

“It is designed to be a community thing so everyone can come together,” Brant said, adding that gardening and sustainable living have always been a part of his life.

“I grew up gardening,” he said. I learned from my grandfather who learned from his grandfather. It’s just part of my identity.”

If the project finds $8,000 necessary to expand before the snow flies, it will continue to offer many of the items currently available: strawberries, traditional tobacco, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, beets, mix lettuce, turnips, radishes, leeks, green onions, lemons, basil and more.

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If that’s not possible this year, Brant said, he will simply enjoy the time he has left in the growing season.

“When I’m there, it’s a completely different place,” he said, adding that there’s no better feeling than handing fresh food to someone who needs it or has no other way to get it. “It’s just a part of who we are as people. It’s not for anything. Because it has to be done. It’s (everyone’s) responsibility to look after each other, lift each other up, embrace each other. If we can’t do that, then what are we?”

The park is located at 1407 York Road, in the Tendinaga Mohawk Territory. For more information, visit thecrediblemohawk.com.

Jan Murphy is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Belleville Intelligencer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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