It's lunchtime on a mid-August afternoon, and members of the Ajashki Food Security and Climate Change Learning Centre gather at the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa. They share stories about their pets while eating fresh pizza made from ingredients grown just a few steps away. The couches are pushed along the blackboard-lined walls, forming a circle. There is Inuktitut and Algonquin vocabulary posted around the room and a sprawling to-do list written in chalk.
The staff tends to the outdoor gardens every Tuesday and Thursday in the summer. In the winter, they continue to work once a week thanks to hydroponic gardens in the church's upper level. The Ajashki Food Security and Climate Change Learning Centre was formed in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action. According to one of the founders, Sharen Bowen, the idea came from Kitigan Zibi Elder Verna McGregor during a sharing circle in 2020.
"It was like she conceived the idea, it was born, and then we picked it up," Bowen said. Initially, they employed three "future food warriors," a term for the center's employees coined by the project's lead educator, Kayoki Whiteduck. This year, there are 11 youth employees — mostly Inuit and First Nations — in addition to 13 volunteers who make up the "Circle of Support."
Whiteduck, also an Algonquin Anishinaabe horticulturalist from Kitigan Zibi, said he likes to structure hands-on lessons. Before jumping into the work, he briefly discusses one or two topics a day.
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