Jacob Beaton did not intend to become a farmer, let alone start an Indigenous food sovereignty movement.
Flash forward to 2022: the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization selected him and his wife, Jessica Ouellette, as Canada’s food heroes.
Just a few years ago, the couple and their two children had been living the so-called “American dream,” Beaton told HARVEST.
They had a suburban home with a double-door garage and big windows. Still, the couple wanted to become more self-sufficient and give their children a taste of the rural experiences that shaped them growing up.
So in 2018, they purchased 140 acres of land in Kitwanaga, located between Smithers and Terrace.
“Our plan was that we were going to quietly exist on a beautiful piece of property, growing food in our own garden, and I would continue doing the work I was doing, which was business consulting,” Beaton said.
Beaton is from Wilp (House) Nis-a-waap from the Eagle Clan of the Tsimshian Nation. His Indigenous name, Dzapl Gyiyaawn Sgyiik, means “an eagle who gets things done” – precisely what the homesteader did upon purchasing land.
He began educating himself online in food production and touring small-scale farms from Oregon to Europe, realizing there was a considerable knowledge gap in Canada, he said.
“I had a fire lit in me around trying to emulate as many of these places around the world as I could. They were using technologies that are considered brand new and cutting edge in B.C. and they’ve been using them down [in the US] for 15 years.”
He was inspired by the success of small-scale organic farms making considerable profits.
In 2019, Beaton put his newly gained knowledge into practice. Before he knew it, he had people showing up at all hours, joking that his home became like a fishbowl.
“It’s a little, tiny farmhouse, 400-or-500-square-feet, with big, old 1950s windows. We’d be sitting there in our pyjamas, and someone would pull in. It became very busy,” he said, laughing.
The practices he was implementing on his farm excited elders and community members, many of whom had grandparents and great-grandparents who farmed. They recalled a time when Gitxsan gardens and ranches were flourishing. Beaton saw hope.
“So that’s what Tea Creek was born out of. Seeing an opportunity to fill a need that was showing up at our doorstep. Literally, people dropping in all the time, all hours.”
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he dove head first into creating the Food Sovereignty Training Programme at Tea Creak. Included are courses in horticulture, carpentry, safety training, first aid, drone mapping, heavy equipment operation and more.
In 2021, he finally received funding, and the farm ran for the entire year with tremendous success. That year, 108 people graduated from his programs.
Tea Creek is “reaching Indigenous people who would say they would never go back to school, never thought they’d get a job … or who were isolated for whatever reasons,” reasons that were not their fault but rather circumstantial, said Beaton.
What makes this initiative’s model so successful is its holistic approach and commitment to being entirely Indgenous-led and operated, culturally safe and using the land as their classroom. Their programs, ranging from cooking to mechanics, all take place outside. In 2022, Tea Creek won the BC Land Award.
Biodiversity is important to Beaton and his team, and they consider the food and water systems surrounding their area, the varying ecosystems and how they interact with one another.
“If you’re a farmer and you have healthy ecosystems next to your farm, you have fewer pests, natural pollinators, and you have water in your well for irrigation.”
In 2022, Tea Creek hosted over 1,200 Indigenous first-time visitors, with over 5,500 visits in total. They served over 7,000 hot meals, gifted more than 20,000 pounds of veggies to people in the community and had their first Red Seal Chef graduate from their program, Tania Steven. Most of this happened between April and October, with only 29 per cent of the funding needed.
The effects of the Indian Act still intertwine within institutions and society. Receiving funding is a struggle many Indigenous-led programs face, including Tea Creek, said Beaton.
“The opportunity is that we have over a hundred First Nations in British Columbia who have reached out to us, who want to participate, who would like to have their own Tea Creek model.”
The benefits of Indigenous-led programs are huge. In 2021, the United Nations reported that traditional agriculture methods practiced by Indigenous people – including their ability to adapt to changes through the “practice of traditional knowledge, often encoded in Indigenous language and passed between generations” – enhance agricultural sustainability, including mitigating climate change.
Recognizing Tea Creek’s impact on its community, Beaton continues to find ways Indigenous people can overcome many of the barriers they face. For him, this means long hours on the farm seven days a week, growing and donating food and looking for ways to further and better their education program.
Recently, they signed an agreement with SkilledTradesBC (formerly called Industry Training Authority), which oversees the trades that Tea Creek runs. By the end of 2021, Beaton and team had delivered over 450 introductions to trades courses to Indigenous people.
“They told us that we had doubled the engagement with Indigenous people for the whole province.”
Tea Creek is committed to fighting climate change, creating food security, producing local foods for local consumption, ensuring a safe water supply and furthering economic growth by hiring local individuals.
More than a farm, Tea Creek is a holistic approach to food sovereignty and economic development that provides community, trades training and land preservation, creating a healthier and happier world.
“Eight-seven per cent of people who came to our site last year said they received significant mental and physical health benefits from here. We have people who say they experience reductions in mental unwellness, that they lost weight, learned how to eat healthily and got physically fit. So there are incredible benefits beyond just skills training.”
Visit teacreek.ca to learn more about all they have to offer.
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