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A collaborative approach to food security in Labrador

Dr. Rachel Hirsch cutting Arctic Char for the community freezer.


By Janet Harron

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

"Everyone I have met – both in Goose Bay and Nain – has been more than somewhat extraordinary," said Dr. Hirsch. "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.

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 and a knowledge and values exchange through activities such as visits with elders, going off onto 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.

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, adding that country foods are an important (and healthy) source of dietary protein.

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 Memoral 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.

Funding for Dr. Hirsch's post-doctoral fellowship is from the Labrador Institute, the Faculty of Arts (geography), and ArcticNet ( She is co-supervised by Dr. Trevor Bell of Memorial's Department of Geography and Dr. Chris Furgal of Trent University. She will be based in Nain until December 2012.