Elders share wisdom of food

A local group is unveiling a series of films that features Islanders eager to share traditional knowledge of food production, a basic life skill that’s fast fading into the past.

Berry picking, root cellars, cod jigging, and baked goods are all staples of Newfoundland heritage. But how relevant are island food traditions today?

All Around the Table is a series of 12 short films featuring interviews with 12 seniors who share their personal stories about food skills.

“The interviews highlight the unique perspectives of individuals and communities across the Avalon Peninsula,” explained Sarah Ferber of the Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador (FSN).

The films were created by FSN as part of its Root Cellars Rock initiative.

FSN is a provincial, non-profit organization that was founded in 1998 in response to a number of poverty and food insecurity issues in the province.

“Food for all”

“(Our) mission is to actively promote comprehensive, community-based solutions to ensure physical and economic access to adequate and healthy food for all,” Ferber wrote in an email to The Independent.

Root Cellars Rock focuses on local food production through food heritage, she explained. “Through engagement with community-based initiatives across Newfoundland and Labrador, FSN began to recognize the gap between the extensive knowledge that seniors in our province hold around food skills and the growing interest among younger people to create a more sustainable local food system, who were seeking such knowledge because it hadn’t necessarily been passed down.”

The films are a means to expose these traditions in a beautiful, interesting and accessible fashion.

With traditional Newfoundland music playing in the background and each elder speaking from memory, viewers are likely to feel a personal connection to the film and can use the information shared through the stories to bring the food traditions to life again.

A film a week

FSN will debut a new film on the Root Cellars Rock blog every Wednesday from May 1 to July 17.

Bride Power of Marysvale. Photo submitted.
Bride Power of Marysvale. Photo submitted.

The first film featured Lewis Cole of Carbonear, whose family had a vegetable garden, pigs, and chickens. They went berry picking and made jam. Each member had a specific role linked to food. Cole said he hopes more Newfoundlanders will begin growing their own gardens again, and that the first vegetable that comes in will spark a desire to grow more.

“The strong food heritage that we possess in Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the greatest assets we have for fostering food security,” said Ferber, who believes summoning longstanding knowledge will help islanders sustain local food production. “We can utilize some of the ideas and techniques from the past, that still make practical sense today, to build a more sustainable and healthy local food system.”

All Around the Table is effective in not only explaining how to preserve such traditions, but also in exposing us to new ideas.

One of the interviewees, Leonard Ruby, a farmer from Killbride, explained that one year he and his wife grew 24 varieties of vegetables for their roadside stand, Ferber explained.

Old knowledge + new knowledge = great potential

“As more people learn to grow new things in backyard and community gardens, harvest berries and other non-traditional wild foods, and reconnect with heritage food skills, the options truly become endless. There is great potential in combining the heritage skills and knowledge that we have in this province with people’s expanding appreciation for a variety of foods and flavours,” she said.

An All Around the Table launch was held May 3 in Carbonear, but Ferber encourages any community groups interested in hosting a screening event to email her at [email protected]

The films can be viewed as they are released on The Root Cellar Rock’s blog: rootcellarsrock.ca/all-around-the-table, so butter up a sticky bun, get a notebook and pencil, and sit down for a fine conversation with the seniors of our province to learn more about the food you already love.

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