While the warm month of April is upon us in some parts of Canada, the last bit of winter is still lingering somewhere in the rest of country. Newfoundland and Labrador filmmaker Rosemary House’s interactive video anthology arrives just in time to show the month of March is not forgotten. On the National Film Board of Canada’s website, she has created a journal to show how this easternmost province is steeped in the tradition of sustainability and self-sufficiency―and the memories of leaner times from the not-too-distant past.
The Hungry Month of March is a Rock Island Productions/National Film Board of Canada co-production made with the participation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation. This interactive documentary anthology features 14 short profiles of 10 suppliers who do the kind of work that almost everyone in the province’s remote out-port communities used to do―when people were self-sufficient by necessity.
Watching how the other side of Canada makes itself sustainable is fascinating. The video clips are short and to the point. The layout and design of the web page is beautiful to look at. The journal/sketch-book format works well to highlight the various seasons and each page is a look at a specific individual from Newfoundland talking about a particular aspect of harvesting / making ends-meat year-round.
With topics on how to fully make use of “Root Cellars” and properly “Living off the Land,” even farmers on the west side of the coast might pick up on some techniques should we ever go through a long cold winter again. Technically, we sort of did with a few out-of-nowhere blasts from Jack Frost in early 2017 here in Victoria, BC (and probably preventing some operations from fully stocking locally grown food), but to handle storing food in the freezing months outdoors it not without some challenges.
From the press release:
Written, directed and edited by Rosemary House, The Hungry Month of March was developed by Patrick Matte and designed by Aubyn Freybe-Smith. Cinematography is by Nigel Markham, with illustrations by Bruce Alcock. The Hungry Month of March is produced by Annette Clarke as well as Vancouver-based Dana Dansereau and Nicholas Klassen for the NFB, and Rosemary House for Rock Island Productions. The executive producers for the NFB are Annette Clarke (Quebec & Atlantic Studio) and Rob McLaughlin (Digital Studio in Vancouver).
Right up until the 1960s, there were no roads connecting all the out ports along 29,000 kilometres of Newfoundland’s coastline. Supplies had to come by boat, into the harbours that froze solid in winter. People fed themselves by the earth and sea and sky, with food harvested, pickled and preserved to get through the winter and the long, hungry month of March. If winter came early or stayed late, if someone got sick, if guests arrived, if berries were sparse―it called for a lot of improvisation in the kitchen, especially during March.
Newfoundlanders profiled in the anthology follow many of yesterday’s traditions, some adapted over time. The suppliers profiled in The Hungry Month of March are:
· Jeremy Carter at his organic farm in St. John’s
· Keith Morry and his pré-salé lambs on Ship Island
· Marie and Aubrey Payne at a cod-pot fishery on Fogo Island
· Lori McCarthy foraging at the seashore in Avondale
· Alf Coffin’s garden by the sea in Joe Batt’s Arm
· Murray McDonald and the quintessential root cellar
· Peter Burt making salt from the sea at Logy Bay
· Alan Ash snaring rabbits in Hants Harbour
What gives the emphasis on local food a fresh twist in these globalized times is the question of food security. Newfoundlanders have gone from producing a healthy percentage of their own food to producing just a small fraction. Everything now comes by ferry from the mainland of Canada, an eight-hour journey across the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Three short days without ferries and supermarket shelves begin to go bare.
The suppliers behind Newfoundland’s local cuisine are also part of a global movement, joining farmers and chefs around the country and the world who make use of local sources to feed body and soul.