In the last week of August people from across Manitoba gathered in Wabowden for the Sixth Annual Grow North Conference. The three-day conference brought together people from Split Lake, Baden, Grand Rapids, Lac Brochet, Nelson House, Winnipeg, and Wabowden to learn and share about the successes and struggles of growing and eating food in the north. The conference is a partnership among Food Matters Manitoba, Bayline Regional Roundtable, and The Northern Association of Community Councils. The community of Wabowden was a welcoming and supportive host. We host two or three of these gatherings each year, in communities across Northern Manitoba. The conferences are always planned and held in partnership with the hosting community.
At the Grow North Wabowden Conference workshops ran from morning to afternoon during all three days. Topics included gardening, beekeeping, dreamcatchers, safe food handling, and fishing. The topic of fishing led to a spirited conversation and demonstration on the variety of ways to smoke a fish. A group came together during one lunch hour to talk about what they want to see in a national food policy. Notes on this conversation were recorded and sent to Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (the department working on the creation of a national food policy).
Medicine walks were a popular learning session. During the walks, participants learned to identify medicinal plants, where to find them, how to harvest them, and how to make them into medicines. People went home with weegass, spruce balm salve, and poplar bud lip balm- all made with plants they had picked. During one of the medicine walks a participant said the most valuable thing they learned at the conference was to “always give back what you take (Tobacco).”
Most of the guests to the community camped in the local campground, a beautiful site that looks out across Setting Lake. At night people came together to eat and tell scary stories around the fire. In the morning campers enjoyed the view of the sun rising over the lake. The conference brought new people together and refreshed old connections, and participants left with new ideas to bring back home.