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A collaborative approach to food security in Labrador

By Janet Harron | March 14, 2012

Rachel Hirsch, the 2012 post-doctoral research fellow at the Labrador Institute, is learning something new every day from her co-workers in Nain.

“I try to approach new situations with my "eyes wide open" and to expect the unexpected … as I learn and meet new people I feel more connected to a place,” she said. “Everyone I have met – both in Goose Bay and Nain – has been more than somewhat extraordinary. My co-workers at the Nain Research Centre are some of the most dedicated, hard-working people I have ever met. I feel very blessed.”

Dr. Hirsch is focusing her efforts on helping to develop and evaluate a pilot youth outreach program in Nain through the Nain Research Centre and Community Freezer Program (CFP). 

Established in March 2011 and led by the Environment Division of the Nunatsiavut Government and the Nain Inuit Community Government, and administered at the Nain Research Centre, the CFP program provides the community with anonymous and free access to country foods such as caribou, seal, Arctic hare, Arctic char and even polar bear. Country foods are received either as donations or by covering the cost of fuel for local harvesters who hunt for country foods for the community freezer.

Aullak, sangilivallianginnatuk” (going off, growing strong in Labrador Inuttitut) is the first project of its kind in Canada focused on bringing together community youth and harvesters to enhance a community freezer program. Thirteen youth have been selected to participate alongside 15 harvester volunteers.

Dr. Hirsch explains that the project will be designed for youth by youth with guidance from community members including the senior harvesters. There will be a focus on intergenerational skills, knowledge and values exchange through activities such as visits with elders, going off on to the land in both large and small groups, cooking classes, documentary film making and Inuit games. She is a partner in the project and will be helping throughout but especially in program evaluation.

Dr. Hirsch’s research interests include human security in the Arctic, health and environmental governance, community resiliency and policy framing including innovative techniques in the evaluation of knowledge exchange.

She applies the principles of participatory action research in her work and explains that this refers to research that is “applied, action-oriented and collaborative.” The pilot project in Nain includes community members, government employees and researchers working together to build and share solutions to human security issues such as food security, inter-generational learning and mental health.

“Although I have only been living in Nain for a little longer than a month – it is already clear that even though the cost of shipping many foods is subsidized, many households are still food insecure,” said Dr. Hirsch. “Additionally, country foods continue to be an important -- and healthy -- source of dietary protein. Recent studies also indicate that country foods are an essential component of a healthy northern diet being high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.”

Dr. Hirsch explains that many people are helping to guide and administer the program, including Tom Sheldon, Katie Winter and Carla Pamak of the Environment Division of the Nunatsiavut Government. She acknowledges the support of local harvesters, parents, the Jens Haven Memorial School and the Nain Community Freezer and Youth Outreach Program Steering Committee as important steps in preparing to launch the program.

“This is truly a community-led project and it has been extremely exciting to work with many different community stakeholders who are involved in youth well-being and engagement,” she said.

Originally from Edmonton, Alta., Dr. Hirsch grew up spending time in nature and toward the end of her undergraduate degree in psychology, she began to connect her love of nature with her scholarly interests in promoting a sense of well-being.

“At that point, I also became very interested in understanding how people interact with their natural/built environments and what this relationship might mean for healthy behaviours and general well-being.”

Dr. Hirsch went on to graduate studies in geography at the University of Western Ontario. Funding for her post-doctoral fellowship is from the Labrador Institute, the Faculty of Arts (Department of Geography) and ArcticNet ( She is being co-supervised by Dr. Trevor Bell of Memorial’s geography department and Dr. Chris Furgal, Indigenous environmental studies, Trent University. She will be based in Nain until December 2012.