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Julie Price interviewed by CEGN about the Northern Manitoba Food, Culture and Community Fund

The Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network (CEGN) recently interviewed Julie Price, Tides Canada’s Senior Associate, Manitoba. Julie spoke to CEGN about the collaborative Northern Manitoba Food, Culture and Community Fund and a recent trip that members of the Fund took to northern Manitoba to visit some of the communities and projects that have received funding and to see some of the change firsthand. Read the full interview below.

Pegi Dover, Executive Director, CEGN: In September, I had the wonderful opportunity to join with a number of funders in a trip to northern Manitoba. The trip involved meetings with the communities of Leaf Rapids and South Indian Lake (also known as O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation) to learn about work that had been undertaken through the Northern Manitoba Food, Culture and Community Fund. Steered by Julie Price, of Tides Canada, the Fund is an innovative and collaborative effort involving multiple funding agencies (8 funders currently) and northern community people working together to create community-driven solutions to food insecurity, community health, community economic development, and environmental degradation.

A chance to dig for Yukon Gold potatoes in the large boreal garden that has been created on the site of an old trailer park in Leaf Rapids; to learn from community members in South Indian Lake about the decline of the fisheries due to flooding and erratic management of water levels; and to have my first taste of moose meat (yummy) were some of the highlights of the trip for me. But what struck me most was the Fund’s strong commitment to shared learning. Northern Manitobans are intrinsically involved in advising and guiding the operations of the Fund in an effort to cut through the traditional top-down philanthropic model which distances ‘helpers’ from those who are ‘helped’ and includes significant power imbalances.

Editor: Thanks for your time today Julie and a big thank you for the opportunity to join you and other funders in September. Can you start by telling us about the core concerns that underlie the creation of the Northern Manitoba Food, Culture and Community Fund?

Julie: Northern Manitoba is a region where communities struggle with very high rates of poverty, food insecurity, and related health issues. In one of the communities we work in, 65% of the adult population has Type II diabetes, a preventable disease that is related to food and exercise. The physical and mental health of children is also severely at risk in many communities. But it was not always this way. In tackling these issues, the Fund supports projects that involve food and have an impact on community economic development. In doing so, we follow the Neechi Principles of Community Economic Development which include an emphasis on the use of locally produced goods and services and local skill development.

Editor: How does the Fund operate?

Julie: The Fund is rooted in earlier work on northern Manitoba food issues by Heifer Canada. Tides Canada now leads this work and we extended a direct invitation to a number of funders, asking them to participate in the collaborative. These were funders who were interested in food and indigenous issues and who saw the advantages of working together to create a larger pool of funding and to learn together how best to deploy support.

As our objective is to help foster locally-derived solutions, a critical component of the Fund is the participation and guidance of Northern Advisors. We currently have five Northern Advisors who have committed to sharing their personal experiences and viewpoints for the benefit of the Fund and ultimately for the benefit of northern Manitoba. They bring a deep experience of working and living in Manitoba’s north. Northern Advisors work with participating funders to share learning. Another component is the development of a community of approximately 20 volunteers who are primarily northern people and who provide peer reviews of the grant applications. Learning trips to northern communities for funders and northern Advisors form another key element of the approach, helping to inspire and inform perspectives.

There are many stories in northern communities of well intentioned people who come into the community with an idea of what the community should do. This top-down approach has resulted in a legacy of failed projects. It was because the projects weren’t ones that the communities felt ownership over. The approach here is to develop the capacities of philanthropic organizations to become effective partners and for communities to know that funders are there to listen and learn.

Editor: Tell us about some of the projects to date.

Julie: In the first year, we provided $225,000 in grants and there was a real diversity of projects. About one-third of them were horticultural in nature – gardens and greenhouses which produced significant amounts of local produce, often with the involvement of local youth. Other projects were focused on livestock and chickens and one was focused on the production of organic honey through a beekeeping initiative. Still other projects focused on the harvesting of country foods and reconnecting local youth to the land. In one community, freezers are now stocked with moose meat and fish that 400 residents are benefiting from. One woman from the community told me that she had lost 35 pounds through being able to eat traditional foods.

In addition to the project grants, grantees participate in shared learning conference calls three times annually. Funders and Northern Advisors are encouraged to build their understanding by joining the Shared Learning Calls as ‘listeners’.

Editor: What are the next steps for the Fund?

Julie: A call for applications is currently underway and we will make another round of grants in February, 2015. We are inviting more partners to the work and two new funders have joined this fall. We are particularly interested in exploring private partnerships with businesses that service the north. We will be supporting some new types of community-led solutions – investing in some new approaches and sharing the outcomes with northern communities. We also will be releasing a story-telling video in January, featuring five of the communities we have worked with and how they are addressing food issues. The video will be widely available as a tool for northerners to learn from each other. With the support of Health in Common, an evaluation organization, we will be conducting an evaluation on the funding model to identify the strengths, challenges and impact of working as a collaborative. We’re also developing a website for improved communication about the Fund & our collaborative model.

Editor: Thanks Julie for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm. We wish you the very best with this pioneering initiative.

If you are interested in learning more about the Northern Manitoba Food, Culture and Community Fund, please contact Julie Price. You can also read more about the recent funder trip to northern Manitoba here.

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