November has been a milestone for Food Education Action St. John’s (FEASt), the St. John’s sustainable food collective. It turned two years old this month, and its founder announced Nov. 3 she’s leaving the organization.
Shawn Hayward spoke to FEASt members about how far the organization has come and where it’s going.
Emily Doyle wants to grow fresh, healthy vegetables in Pippy Park. Better yet, she’d like you to grow them. Doyle is passionate about food, which is why she began to volunteer with FEASt when it formed in 2007. As a FEASt member, she’s been working to start a community garden in the park, one of FEASt’s many projects meant to increase the amount of organic, locally-grown food.
Modern mass food production uses chemical pesticides, artificial fertilizer, and genetic modification to grow plants and raise livestock as quickly and cheaply as possible. Organic farming uses natural methods to limit the amount of chemicals that end up on food.
Agriculture is scarce in Newfoundland and Labrador compared to amount of land this province occupies. Trucking food from the mainland increases its cost, reduces its freshness, and contributes to climate change by creating carbon emissions. FEASt’s goal is to encourage more Newfoundlanders to grow food themselves, and to do so without harmful chemicals.
In two years of existence FEASt has started the Get Growing Neighbourhoods project, which creates community gardens in the St. John’s area. FEASt members have helped found the St. John’s Farmer’s Market, and through workshops and school presentations FEASt aims to educate the public on the importance of organic food.
Doyle says she and the other members of FEASt will have to take up new responsibilities now that Krista Koch, the organization’s founder, has left the group.
“Now that she’s stepping back, I think we’ll see a more defined core group at our meetings,” she says. “[They’ll be] taking on all of the things that need to be done, the email list and communication between smaller organizations. Instead of one person taking it on, a whole bunch of people are going to be meeting to make sure those things get done.”
FEASt has no official director, but Doyle says Koch was an important figure in the group, taking on a lot of responsibility for managing FEASt initiatives. Koch couldn’t be reached for comment, but Doyle says she stepped down so others could take leading roles.
“She was the central person,” says Doyle. “If I was doing something I would communicate it to her. I think she has a good way of helping organizations like this become sustainable. She doesn’t want it to rest on the shoulders of one person.”
Doyle says she doesn’t think Koch’s departure will negatively affect FEASt’s ability to carry on.
“I don’t think things will collapse in her absence,” she says. “The people in FEASt have the same ability to work on these issues and inspire people. You won’t see a lot of change from the outside, but everyone in FEASt is going to miss her, because she’s very magical, very inspiring.”
FEASt’s founders envisaged an organization without a hierarchy. Lindsey Hewitt has been a member for a year, and says the departure of Koch will make FEASt what it was intended to be.
“That will become more of a direction,” says Hewitt. “People will have to take more initiative.”
Hewitt says FEASt will start to focus on many smaller projects now instead of a few large ones. They’re looking into starting a gardening program for inmates at the women’s prison in Clarenville, for example.
Just as importantly, according to Hewitt, FEASt will continue to hold workshops for anyone who wants to know more about growing food.
“We’ve been part of the movement to get people more engaged in the food that they eat,” she says. “It’s gotten more people thinking about it. It’s created a way for people to get more involved.”
Like most volunteer organizations, FEASt’s activity is limited by the number of people willing to help. Doyle says she was impressed by the turnout at the last meeting, but new volunteers are always welcome.
“When it’s an issue people are passionate about, they’re okay devoting their own time,” she says. “Although it is voluntary, you do get a lot of positive benefits back. You meet your community, and you get experience doing whatever it is you love doing.”
Doyle says FEASt is thinking of hiring employees to provide services like compost collection. She added that a paid executive director would also be an advantage.
“It would be nice to have the ability to pay people,” she says. “We’re not there yet. We’re still so new.”
One of FEASt’s most ambitious plans is getting the City of St. John’s to adopt a sustainable food resolution, a document that would reduce bureaucratic obstacles to producing food in the city.
FEASt members are also drafting a document for institutions like hospitals and schools, encouraging them to adopt policies that strive for sustainability.
“It’s a huge hurtle,” says Doyle. “You start with the policy and then get as many interested stakeholders are possible. It’s a big one but it’s really important.”
Doyle is now one of three original members of FEASt who are still involved in its operations. An organization is the sum of its members, and as older members leave and new ones join, FEASt’s organizational structure will change with it.
FEASt will grow and thrive, according to Doyle, as long as its members’ passion for sustainable food remains the same.
“The most important thing is that you’re motivated by the issue, and you’re interested in helping this grassroots organization,” she says. “[You want to] increase access to local food and knowledge of the importance of having land set aside for agriculture. That’s most important attribute you bring.”