Centre de femmes du Haut-Richelieu
That residents should lack access to healthy food in a territory where 90% of the land is reserved for agriculture may seem surprising. But that is a very real issue in Le Haut-Richelieu RCM. The municipality has a low population density, which leads to isolation. It offers few public services, which makes housing more affordable and thus attracts low-income residents. It is remote from supermarkets where food can be purchased economically. And it has an inadequate public transportation network. Those are just some of the challenges that need to be overcome in order to improve the food security and self-reliance of local residents.
During a vast public consultation conducted between 2009 and 2011 by the Centre des femmes du Haut-Richelieu, a women’s centre, many local women expressed the need to work together in order to increase their economic and food autonomy. The centre saw this as an opportunity to mobilize these women and encourage them to find solutions themselves to an issue they had identified as being important to their personal well-being and that of their families.
Once mobilized, these women played a key role in the deployment of the Centre des femmes’ food security program. Under the guidance of centre facilitators, they approached municipal partners and elected officials in order to find premises for the collective kitchens and plots of land for the gardens. They knocked on the doors of farmers and storekeepers to obtain foodstuffs and equipment at a low price. And they played a leadership role at the harvest festivals that bring together citizens from all walks of life around the same table or the same cooking pot.
Four years after the launch of the program, these women, many of whom come from precarious socio-economic backgrounds, are now in a position to feed their families economically. They have also developed skills they can be proud of, and a valuable support network. Most importantly, they have broken out of their isolation and regained some control over their lives by meeting their needs themselves.
Several collective cooking groups and gardens are now capable of operating independently. This allows the centre’s facilitators to concentrate on mobilizing other participants in neighbouring municipalities where, infected by their enthusiasm, women residents are beginning to grasp the beneficial effects of citizen involvement in reducing exclusion and poverty.
Centraide has supported the Centre de femmes du Haut-Richelieu since 2011.
Centre de femmes du Haut-Richelieu is the winner of the Solidaires Empowerment 2015.