Tea Creek Farm

Growing an Indigenous agriculture resurgence while providing culturally safe training in BC’s north

by Jenessa Joy Klukas

Photo credit: Tea Creek Farm

Jacob Beaton’s (Dzapl Gyiyaawn Sgyiik) bright farm kitchen is a flurry of activity in Kitwanga, BC.

Beaton is the owner and founder of Tea Creek Farm – an Indigenous-led, culturally safe, and land-based facility that focuses on food sovereignty and trades training, and acknowledges that food is central to the community.

Beaton is from Haida, Heiltsuk, Gitxaala (Tsimshian) descent and is from the Eagle Clan – his ancestral name is Dzapl Gyiyaawn Sgyiik, meaning “busy eagle” or “eagle who gets things done.”

Beaton, who was born in Burnaby, BC and grew up in several locations around BC and Alberta, says that his childhood was filled with a “good amount of housing and food insecurity.” His father was a red seal carpenter, but he “also did fishing,” and his mom was a teacher.

“My dad was a carpenter when nobody wanted carpenters,” says Jacob, “…that led me to living in twenty different houses by the time I was fifteen or sixteen years old.” He retrained as a teacher, he says, and “it took him many years, just in time to be a teacher when nobody wanted teachers.”

Beaton cites his personal history as a large driving factor in what he does today at Tea Creek Farms.

Tea Creek Farm

Photo credit: Tea Creek Farm

What is food insecurity?

Beaton provided two definitions of food insecurity.

The first is not having food regularly or having doubt that there will be enough food at any given time. His personal experience was not having enough food for the family “pretty much daily,” in some of his formative years.

The second is simply “how long can you last without going [grocery] shopping,” which he mentions is fairly relevant in a world of uncertainty and supply chain issues, specifically in northern communities. He mentions that root cellars are a fix that could help this aspect of food security – bringing back root cellars (both household and community-based) could be especially helpful for small northern communities, where a highway could wash out and cause supply chain issues fairly quickly.

Tea Creek Farm

Photo credit: Tea Creek Farm


Tea Creek Farms specializes in training Indigenous people in trades such as carpentry, landscape horticulture, professional cook, plumbing, and heavy equipment operator, among other ticketed trades. They also specialize in Indigenous agriculture.

“We are Indigenous-led, meaning the majority of decisions made at every level of our organization, every day, are made by Indigenous people…. We always hire Indigenous instructors, whenever possible.” He mentions this includes bringing Indigenous instructors from far away if that is needed.

Their preferred method though? To hire past Tea Creek graduates to be instructors. “A lot of our staff this year are graduates from last year.”

“So, most of our instruction that is happening is local Indigenous people who have been trained here at Tea Creek … some of the trades that are more specialized, we do need to bring people in from outside. But it’s usually the minority of our trainers [who] are from the outside.”

Tea Creek Farm

Photo credit: Tea Creek Farm

Meeting people where they’re at, and cultural safety

One of the integral parts that make up Tea Creek Farm, that Beaton labels their “secret sauce,” is that it is a culturally safe place. “One of our rules: we take people as they are … you don’t have to be somebody else to be here as an Indigenous person. You don’t have to pretend, or meet somebody else’s standard…. That’s a critical thing for us.”

Some examples of how Tea Creek practices cultural safety are: they do not implement grades, don’t put people on spectrums, and don’t classify people.

“The closest thing we have to [classifying them] is the four quadrants,” Beaton says. These are four broad areas of skills that are needed for food sovereignty, which Tea Creek has organized into four groups – Administration, Nutrition and Hosting, Builders, and Growers. Each of those four areas is necessary, and Tea Creek encourages people to experience all four and identify which area they are drawn most to.

Tea Creek Farm

Photo credit: Tea Creek Farm

Tea Creek’s practice is a holistic model, and always utilizes the Indigenous models of learning.

There is no cost for trainees, and another important part of this initiative is providing support to ensure that trainees and workers can show up.

Beaton cites the median income in his area as between ten and twenty thousand dollars – and if Indigenous, sometimes this income is supporting nine or ten people per household. This can lead to no transportation, lack of proper clothing, lack of childcare, health challenges, and food insecurity among other things.

One of the integral parts that make up Tea Creek Farm, that Beaton labels their “secret sauce,” is that it is a culturally safe place.

“If you expect workers to show up to a job site in a very very poor community, they’re not going to be able to come because they don’t have a ride.” When Tea Creek was in development, Beaton says, that was when they started to make sure everyone had a ride and arranged for people to be picked up.

“Everybody gets fed here, you show up, you get farm eggs and bacon, and hash browns. Then we work, then we eat a big meal together, and everybody gets fed and then you take home the leftovers. Then rinse and repeat, same thing happens again the next day.”

Tea Creek Farm

Photo credit: Tea Creek Farm

Indigenous agriculture and land management

Beaton is passionate about teaching the history of Indigenous agriculture and reconnecting traditional Indigenous farming practices to Indigenous peoples.

“First of all, we need to change our understanding as Indigenous people – because we have been stripped clean of our food knowledge.”

“We, including our trainees, go through a lot of anger when we learn how much Indigenous people have contributed to mainstream agriculture today, and received zero credit. It was stolen just like our land, our children – it’s upsetting.” For example, Beaton says, “It’s upsetting to learn all potatoes are Indigenous and that they were growing potatoes here before settlers and explorers arrived, in our part of the world, on the west coast here.”

Beaton uses tomatoes as an another example – tomatoes are one of the world’s most valuable cash crops today, but were domesticated by Indigenous peoples over 7,000 years of intentional agriculture. “Not accidental farming, not hunting and gathering! But like, actually agriculture.”

Beaton says that a big part of land management in Indigenous culture is the cooperative nature of Indigenous agriculture. “We were not trying to do it all by ourselves, on one farm. We were a community of people that each have our own gifts and specialties, and we work together cooperatively, collectively, really effectively on our territory.”

How does this work today though? Tea Creek’s website says: “We have the philosophy that everyone has a gift, and that we aren’t all designed to be good at the same things.” Teaching each person to use their gifts is a way to reach the outcomes of Indigenous Food Sovereignty, and is ultimately what Tea Creek is educating others to do.

Jenessa Joy Klukas is a journalist of Xaxli’p and Métis descent. She grew up on the land of the Haisla Nation in Kitimat.

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