A Berry Nice Summer

By: Kimberley Hartwig, Community Journalism Trainer

Since I arrived in Nibinamik, I’ve been thinking a lot about food. Where it comes from. How much it costs. Who gets to eat what. There are great inequalities in food. What you eat reveals your privilege. Take vegetarianism or veganism, for example. There is a great privilege in consciously deciding to stop eating certain foods. For many people, you eat whatever you can, whenever you can. Your dinner is whatever you have access to and can afford. I, myself, am an opportunistic eater. I see food, I eat food. And I have no qualms about trying anything new. Before leaving Thunder Bay for Nibinamik, I listed one of my goals as: Eat all the meat. I have, so far, been successful in achieving this lofty goal. 

The store in Nibinamik is very small and locally owned. Unlike some reserves in this area, there is no Northern Store, which is generally bigger and offers a wider selection. Of course there are downsides to having a Northern Store, which is why some communities choose to forgo them, notably its ties to the Hudson’s Bay Company. I was shocked recently when I saw a photo from inside the grocery store of another community, where one of my colleagues works, with fully stocked isles and different sections dedicated to different types of products. The choice! The splendour! I couldn’t believe it. Even amongst reserves, there is inequality. 

Nibinamik has two stores: the community store and the corner store. The community has been waiting for a new store building to be built but there have been a number of delays.

Like many remote northern communities, Nibinamik is food insecure. Choice at the store is limited and to eat healthy, you have to be willing to spend an arm and a leg. The cheapest things in the store are, unfortunately, the most unhealthy. Since I’ve arrived in Nibinamik one of the most efficient ways to cut down on my (ridiculous) grocery bill and eat healthy is to try and find other sources of food. The one I’ve had the most success with is fishing. I’ve become a bit obsessed with fishing since the first time I went out. I still can’t believe that you can head out onto the water, cast your line, and reel in dinner. It’s quite amazing to a person who has only ever gotten meat from a grocery store. I also don’t feel nearly as bad about killing and eating a fish as I might another cuter, furrier animal. Fish are not pretty, my friend. 

White fish collected during the youth retreat in July. White fish can be smoked and turned into pemmican. Photo by Eda Moonias

Apart from fish there are a few other things that can be collected from the land around Nibinamik. The community recently hired a local foods developer to try and return the people to a more traditional diet. This way, instead of turning to the often highly-processed foods that are brought in from the south, residents will be able to provide for themselves in a healthier and more sustainable way. One big project that will hopefully be completed in the future will be the establishment of a community garden. 

One of the most plentiful things you can find around Nibinamik is berries. And thank goodness for that, as the price of strawberries and raspberries at the store is enough to make even the most financially secure person shed a tear. It wasn’t until my bosses visited Nibinamik to check on how the program is going that I was made aware of the wild strawberries growing only a few steps from my house. I didn’t notice them. I never would have. They’re tiny, imperceptible to the untrained eye. But once you know what to look for you realize they’re everywhere. Hiding from the world under green leaves, staying close to the cool, moist, ground. They’re much, much smaller than the strawberries you find at the supermarket but have a stronger taste. 

So tiny! But so delicious. 

Blueberries are another sweet treat that can be found around the community. Unfortunately, they make their home a bit further from the town so I haven’t been able to pick any yet.If you have both fish and blueberries you can combine them into something called sasiipiiman. I was able to try this dish during the youth retreat. It tasted like fish and blueberries. I’m sure it’s very good for you, but I can’t say it’s one of my favourites.

When going berry picking, it’s best to bring a partner.

Most recently I ventured out to take some photos of wild strawberries for this blog and that’s when I found them. Hanging so peacefully from the stems: raspberries, my most favourite fruit. I could barely believe my eyes. I had heard many people mention blueberry picking but no one had mentioned raspberries! I felt like I had stumbled onto a secret that no one knew. I quickly ran back to my house to grab a jar and begin collecting. I was able to fill almost two jars after scouring the community. A small achievement to be sure, but I couldn’t have been happier.

Nothing is better than freshly picked raspberries. But be careful! The stems are prickly.

My mom often plants a garden but I don’t remember ever helping. I remember eating the fruits (more specifically vegetables) or her labour, though. The crisp and juicy peas, the bright orange carrots with their satisfying crunch. My paternal grandparents came over from Europe after the war and had a small farm outside the city, in addition to raspberry bushes in the backyard. I think they also used to have a small garden, but by the time I can remember their bodies were too worn down to continue tending it. 

When I was growing up, all that was left was the bee farm. I always loved having access to an unending sea of honey. It used to flow from the large vat in my grandparents’ basement that stretched all the way to the ceiling. A thick, viscous stream of liquid gold. But, like many others, our bees are dying. Each year there are fewer and fewer left and nothing seems to be able to stop the rot. I brought some here with me. Honey that is, not bees. Two little bears full of that sweet nectar. I’ve been rationing them since I’ve arrived. Trying to make sure I won’t run out before I return home. They sell honey at the community store but I’ve never liked to buy it. Why would I? It just tastes better when you know where it comes from and whose hands it has passed through. 

Bees buzz around the flowers in Nibinamik. Unfortunately, no one keeps bees in the community so my meagre supply of honey will have to last my eight months here. Photo by Lennox Wabasse.

So I took my raspberries and my honey and made jam. I have never before in my life made jam, but it turned out wonderfully. My home in Saskatchewan and my new home of Nibinamik coming together on the stove, providing for me.

The first pot of jam I ever made. Made with honey from Saskatchewan and raspberries from Nibinamik.

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