Writing Thunder Bay’s Slow Food Story
By Jodi Belluz
Slow Food Superior is located on the shores of Lake Superior. This Great Lake is our namesake, but technically our home is in Thunder Bay, resting on the rugged rocks of the Canadian Shield, surrounded by the Boreal Forest, abound with fresh water lakes, and scattered with pockets of fertile soil where glacial lakes once lay. Indigenous Peoples have called this land and its lakes home for thousands of years. Europeans first settled in the area as part of the fur trade, and later due to the mining and logging industry. Today, the Thunder Bay area is still home to thousands of Indigenous Peoples, and also home to thousands of immigrants and their descendants from all over the globe. We are home to artists and industrialists, public servants and entrepreneurs. We are home to a substantial agricultural community comprised primarily of dairy farmers, but also of cattle, fruit and vegetable farmers. And, of course, hunters, anglers and foragers call this land home as well. There is a distinct food story being written here. And it’s in this story that we find our work as the Slow Food Superior Convivium.
In 2004, Jennifer Lailey and Jordan Kennie brought some of us together as a small, loosely formed group to simply enjoy and promote good, clean and fair food. Although it took a while to find our way, during the early formative years we brought an understanding and awareness of Slow Food to Thunder Bay through numerous events and initiatives. The ideas for food change were over-flowing. In fact, there were so many hopes and dreams weaving their way around our small group that we felt overwhelmed and overextended. We wondered where the Slow was in Slow Food.
For the last five years, we’ve been more intentionally creating structure in Slow Food Superior. We now have an elected convivium committee comprised of six members who meet monthly to steer the actions of the convivium. The entire convivium meets twice a year. We create a yearly strategic plan; we try to thoughtfully approach three main goals: Community Action, Sustaining Events and Fundraising.
Currently, our Community Action is to address the food culture in our school system. Over the last two years we’ve developed, and are now distributing, a Slow Food Superior in Schools (SFSIS) manual. Our manual was initially conceived from the Slow Food USA manual, but was re-written to pertain to Northwestern Ontario. The manual provides a step-by-step approach to adopting good, clean and fair food projects in schools such as school gardens, meal programs, and fundraising. It also provides resources, contacts and access to SFSIS micro-grants. We’re now working on ways to implement the manual through mentorship and incentives.
Sustaining Events are workshops and fieldtrips that help our members to learn about and to enjoy sustainable food. These events are always open to the public, but are either free or cost-recovery for members. In the past we’ve held foraging trips for fiddleheads, wild mushrooms, wild greens and wild berries. We’ve ventured on field trips to local farms and to Northwestern Ontario’s very own Boreal Birch Syrup during sap collecting. And we’ve enjoyed cooking workshops such as sausage making and a Kids’ Ratatouille Day (complete with the movie afterwards!). Truly, it’s the sustaining events that provide the storyline, if you will, for our convivium. It’s these events that introduce us to the setting and to the characters that shape our lives here in Northwestern Ontario.
We try to keep our fundraising to a strict minimum: only one major fundraiser per year. For five years now, we have been hosting a Pig Roast and Silent Auction held at Belluz Farms, the place I call home. We invite local chefs to help prepare an entirely local meal centered on “The Pig” and the harvest at hand. The Pig Roast provides enough revenue for us to achieve our yearly strategic plan.
On the horizon is Slow Food Superior Kids. A group of enthusiastic kids and an equally adventurous adult Slow Food Superior member will hold their first brainstorming meeting during Terra Madre Day weekend. It’s fantastic that some of our energy has percolated down through the kids around us, and that they now want to write their own food story.
We are an active group, but we are still struggling to balance our community vision with what we can realistically achieve. There is a constant debate surrounding how to gauge our volunteer energy and how to invest that energy in the most meaningful place. But what keeps us moving ahead is Slow Food’s “rocket fuel of pleasure” as was so memorably put by Raj Patel at Terra Madre 2010. Slow Food Superior is bringing the people of our region back to the pleasures of the table. And what better place is there to be?