Innovative program gets surplus food to First Nations in need

“After we develop relationships, there is this infrastructure, this training. Every community needs a champion.”


Many Canadian food producers are feeling the pinch of COVID-19 as the food supply chain suffers from the lockdown.

Some organizations have stepped up to make sure the food stockpiles not only don’t go to waste, but go where they’re needed most.

The Regional Food Distribution Association (RFDA) in Thunder Bay is one such group, connecting food producers with 20 northern Ontario First Nations.

Farmers to production facilities are supplying hundreds of thousands of pounds of fresh, frozen and non-perishable food to a network of food banks. But not all remote communities have these, and there’s the added logistics of getting food to fly-in communities or those with thawing winter ice roads.

Many bands don’t have the staff to co-ordinate – or the finances. That’s where RFDA steps in, shipping pallets upon pallets of food to them.

Volker Stromm is the executive director and says networking has been key and what’s happening in northern Ontario could happen anywhere.

All it takes is a point person in a community to connect with the provincial or territorial food bank program through Food banks Canada a nationwide network of 650 affiliates that have connected with producers and suppliers who’ve found themselves with overstocks and nowhere to put them.

“(Food banks) can tap into expertise that will help them with their food sovereignty plans,” Kromm said.

While some feel the pandemic crisis is over, Kromm said it’s really only beginning in the food supply chain.

“(Food banks and food distribution organizations) are going to be looking at conversations with communities that need a recovery plan, because quite frankly, whether that be food banks, or gardening or buying groups, there are a lot of options,” said Kromm.

“After we develop relationships, there is this infrastructure, this training. Every community needs a champion.”

Tania Cameron is that champion for First Nations in the Kenora, Ont., region.

Upon hearing about a glut of potatoes in storage and potentially being wasted because of restaurant closures, the pandemic planner and member of Niisaachewan First Nation got in touch with producers in nearby Manitoba to ship tens of thousands of pounds of potatoes to communities in her area — $15 for each 50-lb bag.

The moccasin telegraph spread the word and she found herself doing it again and again and fundraising thousands of dollars towards shipping costs.

She jokes she’s strangely become “the potato lady” and is now branching into the world of onions.

InFocus also heard from two members of the Navajo nation about the COVID-19 crisis there that has infected more than 3,200 members and killed 100.

Also on the show, the Native Women’s Association of Canada about how the pandemic has left women, girls and two-spirits in danger, due to unstable domestic situations during the lockdown.

Later in the show we met the three Indigenous journalists that make up https://indiginews.com/ covering stories in the Okanagan region of B.C., which until this partnership between The Discourse and APTN, had been an Indigenous news desert.

Host, Producer / Winnipeg

Melissa is a proud Red River Metis and award-winning journalist who has spent more than 24 years covering crime, courts, politics, business and entertainment for newspapers in four provinces.
She then joined APTN Investigates in 2009 and APTN National News in 2018 and in that time has garnered numerous awards and nominations including from the World Indigenous Television Broadcasters Network (2013), Canadian Association of Journalists (2016, 2019) and Canadian Screen Awards (2018, 2019).