Jan Murphy • Local Journalism Initiative reporter - Belleville Intelligencer
Publishing date: Sep 14, 2022 • September 14, 2022
TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY – A small table sits roadside in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, just along York Road past the township offices. On it sits piles of freshly picked fruits and vegetables. If you drive by too quickly, or possibly even blink, you might miss it.
That’s because, the Kenhte:ke Kanyen’keha:ka Food Sovereignty Project, much like its roadside offerings, is in what you could call the growing stage.
The project, the creation of Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte band member Andrew Brant and his wife, Renee, seeks to provide the territory with fresh produce year round, as well as revitalize the soil to improve quality of life for generations to come.
“In Tyendinaga, we are about half an hour away from any fresh produce,” Brant said beside his burgeoning garden on a sunny afternoon as traffic whirred by. Price and accessibility to fresh food isn’t an issue exclusive to the territory, but it is one Brant and company hope to stamp out. “When it comes to our elders, they can’t necessarily go and get (fresh food off-reserve). There are people here who can’t or don’t leave their homes. So there’s a need for it,” Brant said.
Lush Cosmetics’ Charity Pot grant program gave the project the boost it needed to take it from seed to seedling.
“They (gave) us $17,000 to purchase a greenhouse and clear that land down here,” Brant said, pointing up the lane to a cleared where a greenhouse sits waiting to be constructed.
But before that can happen, more money is needed to grow the project into the year-round initiative Brant envisions. In fact, the project needs another $8,000 to build a base on which to place the greenhouse, as well as to acquire organic materials needed to start the gardens. That would allow fresh food to be grown year-round, beginning as early as this winter.
“Then we can keep on producing probably more than the present 65 to 70 pounds per week of fresh produce,” Brant said.
The food produced so far – save for what was lost to rabbits before wire fencing was put up to protect the fresh goods – is available free to anyone living on or off the reserve. Brant sets up a table every Wednesday (weather permitting) to hand out fresh food, and also delivers it to those in need in his community.
“We have some going to the elders’ lodge, we have it going to different members in the community and we’ve donated to the community food resource centre as well,” he said. “We also make it available for people who are off territory because not everybody has a spot on the territory yet.”
Brant has also spoken to MBQ council about having land made available for the project to continue to expand his efforts.
“Council is doing a really good job of working together with us,” he revealed, adding that council is looking into land that the project could use for expansion. “We’ll be able to put up another greenhouse there, probably 100-foot greenhouse, and then another year we’ll be able to put up another one.”
Besides its food offerings, the project aims to revitalize the soil in the community and its surrounding watersheds. The soil used in the gardens is mixed with organic materials like fish innards and coffee grounds from Two Row Coffee Company, which fully funds the project outside of grants and donations.
“When we look at the entire Bay of Quinte watershed, we have all of these lakes and these rivers and streams flowing down into the Bay of Quinte,” Brant said, adding that industrialization and population increases have altered the watershed, which runs right through Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
“It’s not just affecting us on the territory, it’s affecting the settlers around as well,” he said. The use of fungal and organic matter, if used in enough areas and by enough people, can create cleaner runoff and change the watershed permanently, Brant said.
“We’re (applying for) a grant for climate change so we can make the whole project green, use a turbine, things like that. We want to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible,” Brant said.
While Brant is certainly the driving force and vision behind the project, he dreams of making the project a community effort.
“It’s designed to be a community thing so everybody can come together,” Brant said, adding that gardening and sustainable living has always been a part of his life.
“I grew up gardening,” he said. “I learned from my grandfather, who learned from his grandfather. It’s just part of who I am.”
Should the project find the $8,000 necessary to expand before the snow flies, it will continue to offer many of the items currently available: strawberries, traditional tobacco, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, beets, lettuce blends, turnip, radishes, leeks, green onions, lemon, basil and more.
And should that not be possible this year, Brant said, he will simply enjoy what time he does have left in the growing season.
“When I’m in in there, it’s a whole different place,” he said, adding that there is no better feeling than handing over fresh food to someone who needs it or has no other means by which to get it. “It’s just a part of who we are as people. It’s not for anything. It’s because it needs to be done. It’s (everyone’s) responsibility to take care of each other, to lift each other up, to hold each other. If we can’t do that, then what are we?”
The garden is located at 1407 York Rd., in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. For more information, visit thecrediblemohawk.com.
Jan Murphy is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Belleville Intelligencer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.