Updated: Apr 20
"This work is not about any one of us in particular - it’s about the relationships that are formed and the impacts that emerge when we put our heads and hearts together for creative collective transformation."
Image description: an example of an early summer CSA box from Upbeet Garden - carrots, summer squash, kale, leeks, beans, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers and cucamelons
Image Source: Jesse Wallis, Upbeet Garden
Sitting around a fire one night are several small-scale farmers, gardeners, community organizers, a couple of ecological restoration students, a property owner who’s keen to have his land farmed, and a toddler. All these people from such seemingly different walks of life, gathered in one place with delicious food and a shared purpose. Laughing, sharing invaluable wisdom from personal experiences, tasting new flavours, optimism at meeting fellow growers, and instilling these values into our young ones. How can we bring the feelings of this kind of experience to our community at large?
Iyé Creative is a very small team, but our work is so much bigger than our individual selves. This work is not about any one of us in particular - it’s about the relationships that are formed and the impacts that emerge when we put our heads and hearts together for creative collective transformation. We’re inspired by biomimicry - or learning from the wisdom of nature - to express our way of being. Mushrooms, for instance, are the fruiting bodies of an underground network of fungal filaments called mycelium - mushrooms are to mycelium as apples are to apple trees, in a way. Mycelium forms partnerships with plant roots, and connects plants together in a network, sharing resources and information for the collective benefit of all. We think of our relationships with small-scale farmers, makers, food aggregators, and community members as this kind of mycelial web. Through this network of sharing assets, the collective becomes so much stronger together than if we were working independently. We become more resilient in the face of unknown changes.
In order to illustrate how we imagine this path forward, there are a couple of concepts to bring our attention to. The first is Equity, and how we can design systems that have this concept at the foundations. Equity is when the outcome of an individual is not tied to any aspect of their identity - they are equally as likely to succeed as any other person. Our society at the moment is far from equitable. Some people sit alone in the echoes of their multi-million dollar waterfront palaces, while others are purchasing cheap, processed food, hoping they’re consuming enough calories to survive another week. Our current industrialized, capitalistic food system prioritizes some social groups over others, leaving communities to struggle with food insecurity based on their age, race, gender, physical abilities, or socioeconomic status. While the concept of “food security” is not necessarily the best way to discuss food access - that’s a conversation for another day - there are clearly stark discrepancies between different socioeconomic groups.
We don’t need technologies to increase our yields - we already produce more than enough food for everyone globally. In order to work towards an equitable food system, we need to acknowledge how the system is designed to intentionally create barriers for some populations, and look at how we can dismantle and compost these oppressive systems. Justice requires us to challenge our capitalist, colonized assumptions and take accountability for the harms done in the past, make true efforts to repair, and move forward together in solidarity. We can do this through community consultation processes - by listening to our people and their needs, and discovering where the wounds that need healing are. This is an essential part of what is known as Equity-Centred Design (ECD) - a process through which we can be accountable to our communities while we work toward liberation for all.
Image description: a graphic illustration of the equity-centred design process. Sections include building humility & empathy, defining & assessing topic/community needs, ideating approaches, rapid prototyping, testing & learning, and inviting diverse co-creators.
Another key aspect of our work that informs our path toward more equitable access to local food is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This is a model for small-scale food producers to generate reliable income, and have some financial stability. Community members purchase “shares” which are typically distributed in the form of produce boxes, and this funding supports the farmer’s livelihood. There is an aspect of shared risk in this model - participants subscribe to receive a certain amount of produce, but depending on the success of the season, may receive more or less than they anticipated. This ensures that the farmer’s livelihood isn’t based on how well their crops do. This also encourages farmers to plant a diversity of crops so as to be able to ensure that with shifting conditions due to climate change, some of their crops will do better than others, and they’ll always have something to share with members. Community Supported Agriculture gives farmers a sense of stability, encourages relationship-building, and provides community members with top-quality local produce and other farm products. Everyone wins! It’s also local economy-focused and has a much lower impact environmentally. Food is grown a short driving distance away, and mostly distributed in zero-waste totes or compostable paper bags.
Personally, I love receiving a CSA box - I know the people who grew my vegetables, I know they were harvested within the last 24 hours, were grown without chemicals that will harm my body or the environment, and in these times of skyrocketing food prices, I find it to be really great value for a box full of fresh produce! I could spend the same amount of money at a grocery store, purchasing food that was grown in California or Mexico with unknown practices of pesticide and fertilizer use, and outrageous amounts of fossil fuels used to transport the food to me. Often, the food would have been harvested weeks in advance in an unripe stage, before peak nutrition, and by the time it arrives to our grocery stores, it is essentially nutritionally dead. There’s a saying that goes “you can pay your farmer now or your doctor later”. By eating nutrient-dense foods that were harvested recently with low-impact methods, you’re also supporting your body’s peak performance as well.
We envision being able to weave together the frameworks for Community Supported Agriculture and Equity-Centred Design. The implications of shifting our food system toward these goals cannot be overstated. Making these shifts would impact our entire paradigm of making sense of life on this planet and our relationships with every other person and organism who inhabits it. This is an entirely different way to perceive ourselves in the world.
In practice, this looks like mutual aid groups facilitating knowledge sharing, and orchestrating the emergence of creative community-based solutions. It looks like policy reform - advocating for a shift in food policy to reflect values of diversity, equity, and community sovereignty over food decisions. It looks like many seed libraries dedicated to protecting local seed diversity and sharing genetic varieties that are best adapted to our particular climate. It looks like local organizations cooperating and collaborating to make more of an impact together than separately. It looks like farmers able to earn living and even abundant wages, and also sliding scale or flexible payment opportunities to have the widest access possible. It looks like farmers growing culturally relevant foods so that diverse community members feel a sense of connection to their ancestral lands, and also simultaneously connected to the land here that grows and nourishes these crops. It looks like a whole new way to care for all levels of ecological life on Earth.
We’re fortunate to look around ourselves and see a web of farmers, makers, and distributors who make up the ecosystem of Iyé Creative - relationships we have cultivated and nurtured with care and intention. The first farmers we partnered with were Emily Harris and Tyler Browne of the Plot Market Garden. We first connected at a local food systems event in 2020, when we realized we shared values and were inspired by each other’s work. These two have been farming the same plot for five years now - they turned a marginal plot of land covered in invasive Himalayan blackberries into a productive market garden, and are continually expanding. Emily grew up on these lands, and Tyler, from Barbados, brings his unique perspectives, and together they are a powerhouse farmer couple! This past year, we also partnered with Jesse Wallis and Brooke Williams of Upbeet Garden. Upbeet was born with an intention to weave ecological restoration, food justice, and accessibility. Jesse has a background working with immigrant and refugee youth in the United Kingdom, works at the Esquimalt Farmers Market, and Brooke also works as the Executive Director of Growing Young Farmers. They are passionate about providing accessible food to the community as well as sharing knowledge with others to encourage more young farmers.
We also order our produce boxes through the South Island Farm Hub, which is a great resource for those looking to support local farmers but may have some barriers around physically getting to the farmers market each week. They sell produce from multiple different local farmers, which can be purchased through their online store and then either picked up or delivered depending on the purchaser’s location. This is a great way to sample different foods and create a specially curated box for your family!
Another of our partnerships is with the Giving Garden at Royal Roads University (RRU), driven mainly by Solara Goldwynn, the garden goddess herself and co-founder of Hatchet & Seed Edible Landscapes. In its very first season, Solara and her team of dedicated volunteers turned a patch of lawn into a thriving garden, and have been able to grow over 1000 lbs of food to distribute to local food organizations at no cost. The collards in particular are absolutely mind-blowing, how large and abundantly they produce!
We’ve also benefited from the amazing Get Growing! Victoria program through the City of Victoria Food Systems, which provided us and our community members with high-quality, pesticide-free seedlings as well as soil and other gardening materials. We hosted a Plant Party earlier this year to distribute these to our members, which was an awesome way to connect in person and share gardening tips and tricks to maximize backyard food production.
We’ve also been working in close partnership with the Esquimalt Farmers Market (EFM) this season, who supported our Marketbucks program this year, which allowed 49 Black families and 29 Indigenous families from Songhees and Esquimalt Nation to be able to access food at the farmers market. Also through this partnership, we were able to sponsor Upbeet Garden to grow some culturally relevant crops (this year we experimented with collards, eggplants, and tomatillos), which were then given to various food producers at the market to turn into a variety of food products for sale, further supporting our local makers.
And of course, we couldn’t have gotten this far in forming our network without the passionate people at the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiative Roundtable (CRFAIR) and the Victoria Community Food Hub Society (VCFHS), who operate as our qualified donees, supporting us in securing funding for our programming, as well as other engagement activities and research and policy development.
All of this is a mere glimpse into the diverse ecosystem of relationships we are forming. Together, we are working toward our vision of an equitable food system in which diverse communities feel invested, involved, and invaluable. I couldn’t possibly name all the amazing individuals or organizations we get the joy of collaborating with on this work. Personally, I am beyond grateful for these connections and opportunities to learn how to be a humble settler on these lands who works toward justice, dignity, and equity for all. Meeting and engaging with our members and partners lights my soul on fire, and affirms my strong belief that we can create some incredible shifts in the world when we uplift each other and collaborate!