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Food sovereignty via aquaponics

(COURTESY EAU (URBAN FOOD ECOSYSTEMS))

Last week, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) announced that it would be starting a consultation process for a potential aquaponic food project, as part of the movement towards food sovereignty.

On June 17, the MCK signed a project contract to create a business plan with Urban Food Ecosystems (EAU), a company specializing in aquaponics based in Montreal.

Cody Diabo, MCK chief and lead of the Environment portfolio, ran his council campaign last fall on an environment platform with a focus on food sustainability and security. He said that once he got elected, it was the first project he tackled.

“Food sustainability and sovereignty is a topic that has been around for quite some time throughout the community,” said Diabo.

“So I don’t take credit for that, but it’s building off that momentum that’s been generated through the community about doing our own planting again and feeding ourselves. I started looking at ways of how it could be done indoors because of our short climate season,” he said.

Diabo contacted many companies that specialize in aquaponics and finally settled on EAU.

Last November, the company did a presentation for council on aquaponics and its benefits. However, the project was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a two-fold system. It is built to be self-sustaining. The only component required is that the fish must be fed. In the system, there are several tanks that contain the fish at different points of their lifespan, and then you are using what is already there. The fish excrement is mixed in with the water, and then it gets sprayed onto the plants,” said Diabo.

The aquaponics system would be entirely indoors and acts as an organic fertilizer to grow produce and plants.

According to Diabo, it is a technique that was used by the Aztecs and Mayans hundreds of years and has since been reinvented and modernized.

“There is a component where some produce requires more direct sunlight. You could potentially have a greenhouse aspect attached to the main building because the fish have to be at a certain temperature. It is all indoors, and some produce, mostly leafy greens, can grow with artificial lighting,” he said.

The cost of the project, including the facility, workforce, and other requirements, will only be known after the consultation process is completed, and EAU formally presents the business plan. The full report is scheduled to be submitted by October.

“During the lockdown, I reached out to the Department of Fisheries, Agricultural Canada, the Aboriginal Initiatives Fund (AIF), and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change of Quebec to find potential external funding sources,” said Diabo.

“It is looking very good for potential funders. Potentially at least half of the entire project will be covered by external funding sources,” he said.

Diabo said that during the consultation process, stakeholders, including Collective Impact with their food sovereignty group, the community’s traditional bodies, the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre, and the Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services, would be contacted.

Afterwards, a community-wide consultation will take place.

“Given the restrictions, we are going to try to utilize as much technology as possible by Zoom, email, and phone calls. The big community survey will be done through social media. We are also looking at doing a presentation on social media platforms so people can see the pictures too,” said Diabo.

“The whole goal is that people have access to healthy, local, low-cost food.”

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