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Growing Knowledge: First Nations teams with university for Farm School

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Sara Lang, Caroline Chiu, Corine Singfield, Werner Molzahn, Sara Ciantar, Daniel Garfinkel and Emily Halloran at the TFN Farm School. Photo: Adrian MacNair

At one time in history the competition of space between European agrarian practices and Indigenous hunting and gathering pushed apart civilizations. But today the two cultures are coming together to collaborate and learn from one another.

Kent Mullinix, director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), says Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) approached them in 2015 about developing an eight-hectare farm school on their agricultural lands.

“This land that we’re on is their traditional land and it has a great deal of meaning to them,” says Kent. “So we’re really just quite honoured to be able to work with the community to develop this farm and have this school.”

The Farm School is open first to TFN members, second to indigenous peoples in the Lower Mainland, and third to KPU students. There, they learn about the science and business of sustainable farming, plus traditional perspectives on indigenous food systems.

“We believe the Tsawwassen people have a great deal to teach us about living, working with the land and nurturing it,” says Kent. “By the same token the sustainable farming and food techniques can potentially contribute to the Tsawwassen people here in the twenty first century.”

Dawn Morrison is an aboriginal instructor who teaches indigenous food systems at the school. The Secwepemc First Nation member has a background in horticulture, ethnobotany and restoration of natural systems and is the founder and director of the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty.

“It’s great there is a Coast Salish community showing some leadership on agriculture,” says Dawn. “But indigenous food systems is a lot different than today’s agriculture. The ways they intersect is what I bring to the work here.”

Dawn says the seasonal harvesting calendar and cultivation strategies applied in indigenous and European food systems happen at a different scale. Her goal is to teach indigenous students how to participate in the modern economy, while maintaining their traditional food ways.

The TFN Farm School produces organic eggs, free range pork, and a plethora of veggies. To order a weekly produce box for $25, visit kpu.ca/tfnfarm/box-a-week.

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