Galiano food program flourishes

Small is big for endeavour supported by community

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The Galiano Island Food Program sees the island’s small size and close-knit community as a way to thrive.

The program, which started out of the Galiano Club in 2008, has grown from a simple meal-sharing initiative to a complete food security program. Alison Colwell, the program manager, attributes the growth to the island’s unique character.

“One of the things that works well when you’re doing it on a small island is because we do so many different projects, we can take food from [one part] . . . and distribute it all over the place,” she said. “We’re a very small organization . . . If the community doesn’t support what we’re doing, we can’t do it.”

The organization runs various programs in the community that go towards building food resilience on Galiano, and to creating a community around food on the island.

“We reckon now Galiano imports 95 per cent of its food. If you look back 60 to 70 years ago, it would have been five per cent,” Colwell said. “There was a lot more farming here, but there was also a lot more self-reliance on what was here.”

Colwell and the other staff at the Food Program have been working to build that reliance back up, much of which has been lost only in the last 50 or so years. The program runs an annual Nettlefest in April both in the community at large and in the school. The festival celebrates the kinds of wild foods available on the island, and promotes people going out and benefitting from the free bounty that is just outside their doors.

“Foraging is just part of being aware of what’s wild, free and abundant around you. It’s part of increasing your food security. There are nettles everywhere. You don’t need to buy greens, buying greens in the store is super expensive at this time of year.”

Though foraging for wild foods can help with food security, that security also comes from a resilient community that works together to ensure everybody gets enough to eat. Every Monday, the community gets together for a soup and bread lunch. The lunches started as a way to get meals to seniors who were feeling isolated in their homes. It has grown into a weekly tradition with roughly 100 people coming each week.

“Last year we hit over 500 people [who had come] to soup,” Colwell said. “We only have a population of 1,000, so that’s half of the island coming to soup days.”

The program also runs three community potlucks throughout the year. This year’s December potluck was particularly well attended. Most people on Galiano lost power during the Dec. 20 windstorm. With the winter potluck falling on Dec. 21 last year, people came out to be with each other and to provide meals, cooking and eating by the light of headlamps and candles.

“We were setting up tables and thinking ‘who’s going to come?’ We ended up having 160 people come. The choir got up on stage, and there was a whole row of people in their headlamps singing. It was amazing,” Colwell said.

The program also runs workshops, gleaning projects, a garlic co-op and a community greenhouse for those who want to grow their own food.

For more on this story, see the May 1, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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