Rencontre East is one of 3 communities involved in our Our Food NL: Coast of Bays Project, which is aiming to improve access to healthy, culturally-appropriate food in the region.
The town of Rencontre East is accessible only by ferry, and the nearest grocery store is 77 kilometers away. This remoteness makes it a challenge for retailers to stock healthy, perishable food. All 44 households in the community took part in a food security survey, and 70% of the respondents reported challenges accessing healthy food.
To improve residents’ access to fresh fruit in the area, Peggy Caines, the Food Security Coordinator in Recontre East, and her committee are establishing a Fruit Program.
Step one was to investigate what wild fruit they had in the area. Students were hired to help Peggy find, identify, and catalogue fruit-producing trees and shrubs people had growing on their properties, and what was growing in the wild, so the public was aware of what was around they could access.
To make the identification process easier, they waited until everything was in bloom this summer. The process revealed nearly 30 apple trees (MacIntosh, crabapple, etc), cherries, plums, pears, and even some surprises, like a hazel nut tree.
The plan for next year is to plant a large enough strawberry and blueberry patch for the whole community, much like the existing Community Heritage Rhubarb Garden Peggy and the Town of Rencontre East has established that is open to the whole community to use.
While attending the Agriculture Expo in Grand Falls in late September, Peggy heard about the success of Sea Buckthorn in Newfoundland. Rural communities, like Comfort Cove, have planted it to improve community food self-sufficiency. Peggy has made a mental note to investigate introducing it to her community.
Sea Buckthorn berries have a taste somewhere between bakeapples and apricots. Plenty of chefs have been featuring Sea Buckthorn in their restaurants in our province, including Jeremy Charles at Merchant Tavern.
Lastly, a local store, Salt Box Convenience, has been a big help in the efforts to increase residents’ access to fresh fruit as well. They’ve established a rewards program for folks who buy fresh produce. As a result, more people are buying fresh produce, which is great for both community health, and for the store: there is less risk for store owner Deann Trainor to stock perishable foods if enough people are buying it.
The store is also open to bulk ordering for residents. “If someone were to want a case of apples, for instance,” Peggy explains, “Deann can get them through Costco for the person.”
It is safe to say that the fruits of this program’s labour will be getting more fruit into the homes of residents in Rencontre East.