Earth Day Hometown Heroes? We’re blushing….

There is still snow on the ground –lots of it, in fact—but we are thinking spring. Locovore week was a great kick-off, with gardeners gathering to talk about, well, gardening, and  a visit from our grower friends from the Robson Valley. They excited the chefs working in some of Jasper’s best restaurants with the potential for including locally grown organic vegetables and heritage grains in their five-star menus (not to mention at our Farmers’ Market). Nutters is taking orders now for organic seeds, and a couple of weeks ago, a some of us attended a Seedy Saturday event in Prince George, where we were able to buy heritage Canadian vegetable seeds. Some ardent gardeners are already setting out flats of tomato seeds near windows, taking advantage of the lengthening daylight hours. March may have come in like a lion, and it may still be phenomenal skiing out there, but April is coming. And that means Earth Day is on the horizon.

Every April 22, the world’s communities join to raise environmental awareness. There are approximately one billion people in 170 countries who now celebrate International Earth Day.  The Earth Day movement has helped ensure political will for the support of issues such as clean air and water, climate change, biodiversity, species loss and environmental protection legislation. The first Earth Day occurred in 1970: Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson, plus about 20 million participants organized by then university student Denis Hayes, set-up ‘teach-ins’ to raise awareness on environmental pollution. That event gave the USA’s Congress the kick in the pants necessary to pass clean air and water acts, and to establish the Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 1990, Denis Hayes organized the first International Earth Day. Canada was one of those original 140 countries to join the celebration. It’s sad that more people don’t know about Denis Hayes, who Time Magazine named “Hero of the Planet” in 1999. We can recomend his book: Rays of Hope: The Transition to a Post-Petroleum World.

Earth Day Canada is our national environmental communications organization, and a charitable status organization, mandated to improve the state of the environment by empowering Canadians to achieve local solutions. Earth Day Canada was established in 1991, and ever since then has been coordinating Earth Day and Earth Month events. They also help establish community programs and artistic and media projects. One of their programs, perhaps inspired by Denis Hayes’ example, is the Hometown Heroes Awards. There are three award categories: Individual, Group and Small Business. In Earth Day Canada’s eyes. Hometown Heroes educate and/or empower community members to support a healthier environment, carry-out not-for-profit environmental efforts with notable accomplishments that have resulted in continuous, long-term and sustainable impacts within local communities, and demonstrate outstanding environmental leadership, commitment and achievements in local communities. They’re pretty special people, and if selected, they win a cash prize of $10,000.  Guess what? Jasper Local Food Society has been nominated! Gee, we’re blushing. The award winners will be announced in April. With permission, we’re publishing the nomination letter here:

Nomination of Jasper Local Food Society

for the Earth Day Hometown Hero’s award

The Jasper Local Food Society is a not for profit volunteer group made up of concerned community members. Their goals are to provide residents with opportunities and access to plots in which to plant and grow their own produce, to increase local food awareness, to stimulate the economy and provide opportunities for an economically depressed area,  to decrease the global food footprint, and provide residents and visitors with access to locally grown organic food. Since their formation in the spring of 2010 this small but vital group has been able to initiate all phases of this project.

Jasper is a small mountain town of 4500 residents situated in Jasper National Park. The town and park are a very popular tourist destination for Canadians and visitors from around the world. Although many of the visitors to Jasper are fairly well off, the majority of Jasper’s residents earn low wages working in the service industry. Many also live in apartments or suites and do not have access to gardens to grow their own food. Jasper is also situated a long way up the “food distribution” line and many of the items appearing in the local grocery or restaurant tables have a high price tag and have travelled a long distance. The Robson valley is situated along the Fraser River approximately 90 km west of Jasper. There are several small towns (Valemount, Dunster and McBride) in the valley as well as a wide variety of residents living on rural properties. It is an area that has fallen on hard economic times over the past years with mill closures and lay offs in the resource industry. Unemployment is high but residents have access to productive land, a milder climate and a growing season approximately 6 weeks longer than Jasper’s.

The initial phase of the project focussed on providing gardening space for residents who did not have access to a garden. Posters and articles were written and interested folks were gathered. The Jasper Local Food Society approached the municipality asking for access to public land and a site was selected.  Work-bees were scheduled, raised beds built, soil mixed, compost added, fences built to keep out the resident wildlife and a community garden was born. Lotteries were held to determine who the lucky gardeners would be. Additional beds were constructed and set up at the local elementary and Francophone schools to be tended by students. While tending their “garden” students became more food aware and learned about their environment. Additional spin-offs included a  “Peas Soup” day event to commemorate World Peace Day involving a lunch created by students using ingredients grown in their school garden.

The second phase was a project called “have a garden-share a garden” This project involved matching seniors or residents who had gardens but were no longer able to care for them with members of the community who were eager to try out their green thumbs. The willing members were then able to have access to a garden in exchange for sharing some of the produce with the resident. This also had the additional community building benefit of connecting local seniors with younger members of the community.

The third phase of the project involved the establishment of a locally grown source of produce closer to home than where our present produce comes from. The Jasper Local Food society approached several of their farmer friends in the Robson Valley with a proposition. If they would be able to supply a steady source of produce, there would be a ready market for it just across the border in Jasper. These folks talked it up and soon the “Robson Valley Growers Association” was formed. The “Growers” have organized themselves to plant more land, schedule crops, and coordinate supply and delivery to Jasper.

Every good garden needs a market and the fourth phase was the development of the weekly Jasper Farmers Market.  The market provided a ready source of sales for the Robson Valley Growers from June to Sept and most importantly provided local Jasper residents and visitors with access to locally grown organic produce and eggs. The market also provided a venue for local artisans and bakeries. The Robson Valley Growers were also able to enter into contracts to provide local restaurants with locally grown produce during the summer.

All projects have barriers to overcome and this was no different.  Jasper is situated in the middle of a National Park which dictates environmental policy. The townsite is also governed by a municipality. Many layers of negotiation with various layers of government were required to get access to community lands and ensure that the gardens would not be attractants for local wildlife. Initially some doubted need or desire (although there is now an ever growing waiting list for gardens), some felt that there would be vandalism (society trusted in positive community spirit and there has been no vandalism to date)and there was even a petition from a resident opposing the inclusion of a community garden in their neighbourhood (the classic it’s a great idea BUT “Not in My Backyard”) In the end all were won over and the project got off the ground.

The impact and benefit of this group on the community has been very impressive. They have provided residents with access to garden plots in which to grow their own produce. The interactions between seniors and younger members of the community have improved through the share garden program. Youth have become more aware of local food issues and following the path from garden to table. Local residents have access to locally grown organic produce at the farmers market supplied from the Robson valley which has travelled a far shorter distance from field to table. Residents of the Robson Valley have found an opportunity to get a financial return from their land and help earn a living in difficult economic times. Restaurants are able to offer “locally grown organic” produce on their menus.  And finally, visitors to the community have the opportunity share in the bounty at the farmers market, learn about local food issues and take home messages to their own communities about what can be done locally by a determined group.

While all the candidates initiatives have been impressive, I feel that the most notable environmental initiative that fostered healthier and more sustainable communities would have to be the establishment of the relationship which resulted in the founding of the Robson Valley Growers and the Jasper farmers market. This portion of the project had several key benefits which affected both Jasper and it’s neighboring communities. Firstly it provided an economic opportunity for folks living in the Robson Valley. It provided them with a chance to make a living on their land without having to leave to seek employment elsewhere. It provided an opportunity for organic fruits and vegetables to be grown in the Robson Valley and collectively transported to Jasper, greatly reducing the global footprint and environmental impact of getting food from the field to Jasper’s table. The farmers market provided residents with weekly access to freshly grown local produce. This portion of the project also helped to raise residents’ local food awareness and established friendships and relationships between producer and consumer. Having access to freshly harvested local produce was greatly appreciated by local residents and restaurants and in many cases inspired people to sign up for community garden plots next year. International visitors to the Jasper farmers market were told the history of the market by vendors and residents and the message was potentially carried to communities around the world.

This was all accomplished within a whirl-wind 4 months from brainstorm to first farmers market. It is a constantly evolving process and continues to grow.

All projects have barriers or obstacles to overcome and this was no different.  This project faced hurdles and learning challenges including negotiation with many layers of government or bureaucracy, finding and securing a market site, working harmoniously with existing local businesses, complying with business licencing and municipal bylaws, wildlife considerations, coordinating market deliveries to reduce carbon footprint, cross border licencing, farmers market and food inspection regulations,

Overall, it has been wonderfully received and supported by the community. This project has brought together federal and municipal government, area residents, youth and seniors, service groups such as the Legion, Lions Club and the Rotary, has established a relationship between residents of Jasper and the Robson Valley, and has raised awareness of local food issues for local youth, residents and visitors.

Benefits of the Jasper Local Food Society’s Community Garden Project include:

  • providing local residents with access to gardens to grow their own food;
  • encouraging community building and interaction between residents;
  • providing a role and contact for local seniors;
  • providing economic opportunities for residents of the Robson Valley (an area facing tough economic times);
  • providing a source of organic locally grown food within a 100 mile radius of Jasper (the farmers market);
  • Providing locally grown organic produce for area restaurants;
  • decreasing the global food footprint (shorter distance from field to table);
  • increasing local food awareness for residents and visitors and
  • educating youth through school garden plots/curriculum inclusion.

After year 1, the project is still in it’s infancy and continues to grow ( it is difficult to state that at this point that it has continuous, long term sustainable impacts) but… The “have-a-garden-share-a garden” continues to expand. The main focus in upcoming years is to continue ongoing negotiations with the municipality of Jasper to establish new areas for community garden beds to meet the ever growing waiting list of participants. The association with the Robson Valley Growers has been successful economically and continues to expand. Growers are planting increasing acreage and additional varieties for next year. Local restaurants have been approached about purchasing weekly amounts of produce. The response from residents to the farmers market has been phenomenal and all indications seem to point toward a long term, sustainable impact on Jaspers local food supply. To bolster long term sustainability, the Jasper Local Food Society is considering directing funds towards establishing a scholarship for youth in the Robson Valley for studying sustainable agriculture. A further indication of long term impacts is that the group has been approached by the local library who is planning a renovation. The library would like to incorporate gardens within their landscaping plans which would assist the community and would help the library to attain LEEDs status for their new building. There has been a concerted effort by the group to ensure that this is a community driven and supported initiative which will help to ensure its long term survival and sustainability (rather than being a personality driven initiative which often fail as organizers burn out or move on). The candidate is still working to complete the initiative and should they win the award would use the proceeds to purchase material for construction of additional beds, fencing supplies, shelters for market venders and educational initiatives.

Isn’t that nice? Winning the prize would be wonderful. We could do amazing things with that $10,000. But but just the fact that someone(s) in Jasper thought to nominate us is reward in itself. It speaks to the fact that Jasperites care — a lot — about our community and our environment.  Happy Growing!

3 thoughts on “Earth Day Hometown Heroes? We’re blushing….

  1. BTW: we did not receive the award. It is probably too early in our Society’s trajectory. But being nominated was wonderful! And we did win an Environmental Stewardship award this summer.

  2. Thanks! Your blog photos are lovely and give a very good impression of our gardens on Connaught! Hope to see you next season — visitors are always welcome in the Community Garden. Happy Growing!

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