The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to get back to basics

July 11, 2020

By Chad Duplessie, Community Developer for the Miramichi Area

Food Delivery: Chad Duplessie, Horizon community developer, and Erica Ward, manager of Natoaganeg Community Food Centre prepare produce bags for pick up.

If there is a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be that it allowed us to pause, reassess our lifestyle and get back to the basics.

Whether it’s a simpler schedule for families, relying on our closest friends and family as we invite them into our bubble, or evaluating and adjusting how we source and eat our meals. This was the case for my family, especially in those initial quarantine weeks.

I have three little kidlets, eight-year old Camden, six-year old Edie, and three-year old Calla. We are a busy family as my wife works as a Community Manager at the largest nursing home on the river and I, along with working as a community developer with Horizon, am also city councilor for the City of Miramichi.

We started cooking meals as a family, and not rushing out the door to sports with a Pizza Pop in everyone’s hand. We had to schedule our meals more and we needed to plan our groceries for our online order and curbside pickup.

During those initial days of COVID-19, it was downright scary. Our food system was incredibly fragile as supply chains began to break down, processing plants had sweeping infections and our community members had increased barriers to healthy food access.

Before the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB), the industrial nonprofit response, and before we even knew what was coming or what a new normal would look like, our regional networks, which included myself and other Horizon employees, began discussing a new model for healthy food access.

Our community needed a program that would optimize a short supply chain and surround participants with expertise through all the new virtual tools we were learning how to use. 

What came from these discussions was the Back to Basics pilot program. This is in partnership with Roots to Table, the Natoaganeg (Eel Ground First Nation) Community Food Centre and Green Life Farms. It utilizes an exceptionally short supply chain (under 10 kilometres), and builds on a diverse group of food skills, food literacy and understanding of our local food system.

The program is currently in its fourth week of operation and it’s going great! We have a group of 10 participants recruited by the Miramichi Multicultural Association, Natoaganeg Community Food Centre and Horizon Public Health.

Each week the participants meet at the Natoaganeg Community Food Centre to pick up their bag of farm fresh produce, connect with one another (in a physically distant and safe manner), then head home to begin cooking. Then, they share their cooking through our Facebook group.

We have seen some incredible recipes. From kale pesto pasta, to parmesan crusted roasted turnips. We have such a diverse group of participants, from different cultures and backgrounds, so the meals are just as diverse. We have participants from the Caribbean, Philippines, Spain, Mi’kma’ki and Miramichi.

We have youth, elders, single moms and whole families. Back to Basics has an incredible support team with a Red Seal chef, a dietician and a master preserver all at the ready to answer questions and share tips and hints through videos, photos and recipes.

My work has always revolved around community and working with diverse populations to create moments of sharing, connection and fun. From my days directing summer camps at Camp Rotary and Camp Sheldrake, to my incredible experience working in Natoaganeg as they developed a comprehensive community food security strategy. A strategy that includes community hunters, community fisheries, community gardens, school meal programs and the Natoaganeg Community Food Centre.

I have a passion for food, both the eating of it and the sharing of it. Food, especially good, healthy, local food can bring people together in a way that creates warmth and emphasizes that we are all, at the core, human. We need food and water, at the most basic level. But the beauty of food and communities is how they evolve through hardships. Those evolutions result in a better and more engaging experience at a community level and establish more cohesion and tradition within our families.

I continue to be active with the work to increase our food security in both our community and our province. I am a member of Roots to Table, the Northumberland Region’s food security network, and also chair Food for All NB, the provincial food security network.

The diversity of flavours and cultures in the Back to Basics pilot project has allowed for a program that can grow to a new way of accessing the most delicious, nutritious and local food in a supported, diverse and dignified way.

So I encourage us all to have a peek at our lifestyle and see where we can take it back to the basics.

Chad Duplessie works as a community developer in the Miramichi Region. He’s been working with Horizon since the fall off 2019. Born in Nunavut but raised in Miramichi, Chad comes from a family of educators but has found his passions in community, food and youth engagement. He is a graduate of St. Thomas University’s Human Rights program and has worked with a number of organizations helping to build healthier communities.

Creating sustainable and impactful programs is something he is exceptionally passionate about, and often these projects start with an idea.

If you have an idea of a community project that could help build a stronger, healthier community please reach out to Chad to chat by emailing Chad.duplessie@horizonnb.ca