Game for a Change

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Feb 10, 2023 1:52 PM

By Kim Ploughman

A legislative change in late 2022 to the Wildlife Act means that fresh moose meat can finally be distributed through food banks. Patrons who normally wouldn’t get a share of their favourite wild game can now “get me moose, b’y,” or even caribou or rabbit. The groundbreaking policy change in Newfoundland and Labrador follows a hard-fought battle leading to a two-year pilot project distributing raw meat. And with the rapid rise in food bank usage, the timing couldn't be better.
As with any policy change, the effort evolved from a vision and a desire, and then heaps of advocacy, persistence and even nagging. Barry Fordham has been gaming for this change for over a decade. This passionate hunter has always shared his wild harvest with family and friends, but for a long time it was illegal to gift any wild meat to a third party. He and his daughter Chloe (now 24, but 10 at the time) were inspired by programs in the United States and in Nova Scotia that allowed such gifting of wild game and they both asked, “Why not in Newfoundland and Labrador?”

So began Barry’s advocacy work, going through a long string of ministers. “They all liked the idea, but no movement took place on their part. They were more worried about liability than food security,” says Barry, adding he wasn’t easily deterred. “I wouldn’t take no for an answer.” A petition was also launched by a supporting group, Social Justice Co-op, to put pressure on for the change.
A big milestone came in 2020, when Barry and Debbie Wiseman of Social Justice Co-op kickstarted a group called Sharing the Harvest NL, to boost their moose campaign. Lucas Roberts from The Newfoundland Outdoor Heritage Coalition joined as director.

By then, government flicked the green light by permitting a pilot project. Special permits were granted to registered food banks that allowed them to accept and distribute donations of wild meat. The meat was required to be processed by a government-licensed meat processing facility, or they could simply donate it to Sharing the Harvest NL. More than 400 packages of moose meat were distributed that first year, despite a late start. Donations of large freezers by the Newfoundland and Labrador Outfitters Association allowed food banks in Gander, Deer Lake and Happy Valley-Goose Bay to participate.

Barry is proud to share that it was his son, Shane, only 17 at the time, who donated the first moose under the pilot project. Incidentally, that was in part made possible because Barry had lobbied for lowering the big game hunting age from 18 to 16 (from 16 to 12 for small game), which was made official in 2017.

Sharing the Harvest
One of the food banks benefitting from the new source of protein is Bridges to Hope, which has been helping stem hunger for more than 30 years in St. John’s. For its executive director, Jody Williams, it has been a game changer. To begin with, he points out that it is a nutritious and organic protein source, and “the clients love it!” Fresh protein of any kind is not normally available at food banks, given the cost. The wild game meat comes in ground form, which makes it easy turn it into a nutritious meal, such shepherd’s pie or spaghetti. “For many of our seniors, it’s also a comfort food, as it is a traditional meal they remember from years gone by,” Jody adds.

A 2021 report on food insecurity in Newfoundland and Labrador revealed that 17.9 per cent of provincial households (over 90,000 residents) struggle to afford food. Not surprising to Jody is that the data also shows that most people dealing with food insecurity are working adults and their families. He laments that in the six years he has been with the organization, he has seen the demographics change, especially recently with the “insane” price of food and gas, he says. “We have had to open at least one night a week, Wednesday, just to meet the demand of those getting off work and needing help.”

He continues, “There is certainly a public health crisis across the country when it comes to food.”
Over at Connections for Seniors, also in St. John’s, executive director Mohamed Abdallah is also thankful for the sharing of the wild meat. “It’s something that will provide a big dose of benefit, especially access to good quality, healthy and clean meat,” he says, adding, “It will certainly lift some of the burdens” against the high costs of food. “A lot of people appreciate these donations.”
Barry says it gives him a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment knowing the value of the program to charitable organizations and their clients. “Not to mention, when I go to the food banks to make a delivery, I always get goosebumps to provide this special treat.”

Describing himself as “busier than a feller with three wood stoves going,” Barry and others have been hustling so food banks can have all kinds of country food, including caribou, rabbits, blueberries, partridgeberries and capelin. “I also like how these foods take time to prepare and, likely, families will all sit at the table, providing precious bonding time.”

The final word goes to Jody at Bridges to Hope, who reminds us that with donations on the decline, and usage on the rise, in this struggling economy, food banks can use all they help they can get (monetary or wild game). With community support they can continue to assist families struggling with food insecurity and malnutrition, while also providing them hope and dignity.  

Editor's note:  In the print version of the February 2023 magazine, Barry was incorrectly referred to as Boyd throughout the article. Downhome sincerely regrets the error.