Chef Tony Gercia speaking to P.E.I. students this week about creating local food systems

Mitch MacDonald comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on October 23, 2016

Chef Tony Geraci, left, speaks with Brezlyn Knockwood and Abegweit First Nation Chief Brian Francis at the Epekwitk community garden in Scotchfort on Sunday. Geraci is in P.E.I. this week speaking to P.E.I. students and others on the importance of locally sourced food.

©MITCH MACDONALD/TC MEDIA

Chef Tony Geraci has cultivated a message across the world showing communities the importance of locally-sourced food.

Geraci was the subject of the 2011 documentary “Cafeteria Man,” where as food-service director for Baltimore’s public schools, he began an initiative to replace processed lunches with locally-grown meals.

He’ll be serving up a similar message P.E.I. this week as he travels to six schools across the province to speak with students.

“I want to have conversations with kids about what they’re eating, what they’d like to see and how they can work together to create this food system,” said Geraci.

Geraci said the Baltimore initiative saw more than 90,000 kids being fed locally-sourced meals every day. A similar initiative in Memphis covered more than 300,000 kids.

That’s more than 15 times larger than P.E.I.’s school population, which has fewer than 20,000 students.

“This is a no-brainer, this is something you can do,” said Geraci. “All of the dollars spent to support this would stay on the Island, as opposed to what you’re currently buying. And I think it would create a huge economic boom on the Island.”

Re-directing students towards healthy eating wasn’t Geraci’s only mission while on P.E.I.

One of his first stops in the province was meeting with members of Abegweit First Nation in Scotchfort Sunday.

He gave the group pointers on expanding the community garden into the market and said the group is on the leading edge of a growing trend in buying local.

“And you’re poised in a place and time where you can capitalize on that and make the benefits realized,” said Geraci. “Everything about this Island revolves around food. Whether it’s in the fishery, in the ground or being served at restaurants and hotels.

“I think (locally produced food) is a good industry and it makes a lot of sense. It’s renewable, sustainable and if people practise good stewardship, it could be here for 1,000 years.”

Abegweit First Nation started the Epekwitk Gardens and Preserves earlier this year.

Jenene Wooldridge, director of operations for Abegweit First Nation, said the initial plan for the garden was to support community members with healthy, organic food.

The success of the garden has seen the vision expand, with the group hoping to create a farm school to help educate members of the community.

“We wanted this garden to promote ownership, responsibility and helping lives in the community as well as increasing knowledge within the community on farming, agriculture and the food and tourism industry,” said Wooldridge.

Other plans include expanding the garden, using the group’s nearby salmon hatchery to fertilize the area and building a greenhouse.

Eventually, the group hopes to provide local produce to P.E.I. schools and businesses.

Chief Bryan Francis said it was honour having Geraci at the garden to give the group pointers on moving ahead.

“This is a new project for us so we’re really grateful for any of his insight, advice or guidance,” said Francis.

Geraci said the group is in a unique position with much of P.E.I.’s industry already focused on agriculture.

“You have a closed circuit system where everything served to your children could come from P.E.I.,” he said.

 

Mitch.macdonald@tc.tc

Twitter.com/Mitch_PEI