2012 - Since its inception in 1995, the Firewood Collective Society has demonstrated an innovative approach to developing programs that help women and children in the Fort St. James area. These include the Fireweed Kitchen, a five-station training kitchen the Collective owns and manages on the Fort St. James campus of the College of New Caledonia.
Fireweed’s goal for the kitchen is to create access to education, employment, skill-building and entrepreneurial development for its clients, and with its location at the College, it also had to be a sustainable economic venture. Programs offered range from food and nutrition workshops for women and children, to small-scale speciality food business development programs. It opened in 2008, funded by a grant from Northern Development with the majority of funds raised by the Collective itself. The goal of the kitchen was to create access to education, employment, skill-building, entrepreneurial development, and community engagement through food-related initiatives that enhance local food security.
Fireweed delivers cooking and skill-building sessions for women and their children in the kitchen, including a small-scale speciality food business development program, Food Skills for Families, the Farmers' Market Cooking Club, HEAL for Your Heart, and specialized food and nutrition workshops. The kitchen was officially opened by Executive Chef Andrew George (a gold medallist at the 1992 World Culinary Olympics), and has hosted Chef Diane Collis from Fresh Choice Kitchens, and Executive Chef Emerie Brine from Bernardin.
The College of New Caledonia uses the kitchen to deliver the Professional Cook training program, taught by Chef Pete Krauseneck. This kitchen also supports the development of additional economic spin-off in the community as it offers local businesses the opportunity to rent a fully-licensed facility as a test kitchen for new product development, and to support local catering initiatives.
The facility has demonstrated its value in a number of ways. The programs offered are helping women develop personal independence, improve their understanding of food purchasing, buying and nutrition, and providing them with opportunities to build economic security through training in food business development. The range of training has been enhanced by support from such organizations as the Vancouver Foundation, the HEAL Network and the provincial government’s Healthy Communities programs, with a number of programs serving as models for other communities.
With the installation of a professional kitchen, the College of New Caledonia was able to offer a Professional Cook training program which helps students develop the skills and work experience they need for employment in food service, hospitality and related sectors of the local economy. Local businesses have the opportunity to rent the fully-licensed facility as a test kitchen for new product development and to support local catering initiatives.
"On the surface, more jobs and an improved economy are what you see here today, but the real benefit is the pride our residents have in our community, knowing we worked together to reshape our future."
Ann McCormick, Fort St. James Campus Supervisor, College of New Caledonia
Positive Economic Impacts in Fort St. James
The project has had an immediate positive impact within the community. Fireweed Collective Society is educating and assisting women in developing and achieving personal independence and economic security by offering classes and workshops in healthy eating, nutrition, and small-scale food business development. Work developing and delivering programs in the Kitchen has created three part-time Fireweed staff positions, including a co-ordinator's position. Kitchen programs are supported by a range of funding partners, including the Vancouver Foundation, the HEAL Network, and the provincial governments' healthy communities programs.
Strong community and business partnerships have resulted in innovative programs such as the Women's Small-scale Entrepreneurial Food Program, which supported women in developing small-scale specialty food products for sale at the Fort St James Farmers' Market. These partnerships also support the FSJ Farmers' Market Nutrition and Coupon Program, which is 100% funded locally and which has become a model for other Farmers' Markets around BC. The Fort St James model is used by the BC Association of Farmers' Markets as a template program for other communities in the province wishing to set up similar programs.
In May of 2011 the kitchen hosted a Master Canning Train-the-Trainer workshop, in associated with Fresh Choice Kitchens and Bernardin. This session brought eight women from across north-central BC to Fort St James to develop skills in teaching others how to preserve foods. The course resulted in significant regional economic impact, as participants travelled to Fort St James and spent two nights in the community. Participants returned to their communities with a complete community canning package, including a pressure canner, to use in delivering canning and food preservation workshops. The course was a pilot, and will used as the template for a train-the-trainer course that will be delivered by Bernardin across Canada.
Programs in the Fireweed Kitchen directly contribute to enhanced local food security through education and awareness of the importance of local foods, a commitment to sourcing and buying all foods used in the kitchen locally, and strong and lasting connections with the local agricultural community. Fireweed is recognized around BC as a strong northern voice for food security and food self-reliance.
Individuals in the community use the Kitchen to prepare foods for local community and fund-raising activities, to cater family and business events, and to develop new food products for sale locally.
Students from the Professional Cook programs have been hired at the construction camp for the Mt. Milligan mine, located between Fort St. James and Mackenzie – another example of the direct economic benefits that have resulted from community partnerships and the role the College has taken in meeting short and long-term workforce needs in the region.