Four years ago, Nadine Bernard lost her husband and became a single mother. The life-changing experience forced Bernard to focus more on budgeting and preparing meals for her children.
In her role as a family support worker, she realized she shared problems with some of the population she worked with in poverty. Food preparation and budgeting was an issue for families, so Bernard decided to start Slow Cooked Dreams.
“It was just a part-time project about three years ago,” Bernard said. “[Last year] I pursued it as a full-time business. I partnered with New Dawn Enterprises and the Coady Institute at St. FX University to help me develop a manual based on all the information and the concepts”
Slow Cooked Dreams is a workshop done over five weeks with two-hour sessions, using slow cooker food preparation as a vehicle to explore other issues as well.
“We teach [participants] life skills like budgeting and planning, setting short term and long term goals, we talk about investments whether it’s for education or longer term like a mortgage or purchasing a vehicle,” Bernard said. “I started to do it with the clients who I had worked with and it started to gain some attention and interest from outside groups. Then, I started to do it all around the province.”
Her first ever workshop took place in Sydney. For individual participants of the program, each session is free of charge. Bernard charges an organization if they can afford it, but often writes grants for funding so the program can remain free of charge for the participants.
Since the inception of the Slow Cooked Dreams program, Bernard has overseen 25 workshops and over 300 participants. Each workshop usually includes 10 participants but sometimes reaches as high as 20. The demographic from the start of the program has changed to feature younger participants and even inmates going through Corrections.
“As a family support worker and as a mother who experienced a life-changing episode, you could relate to the situations that they're in and how they’re feeling,” Bernard said. “You get a clearer picture of where they're at in that time in their life. If you can show them a map of certain things you could do that could change your situation because I can't tell anyone how to change their life or be better.”
“It's an education and empowerment program and food prep is the incentive behind it,” Bernard said. “Food prep [takes up] the majority of the time in the workshop over the two hours. And we have topics of discussion for them to be educated and empowered to be able to make small steps toward getting out of poverty and setting goals.”
Lesson topics include the physical benefits of eating healthy, changing eating behaviours, budgeting and planning, the emotional benefits of short-term/long-term planning, and building community. Each participant leaves the program with the Slow Cooked Dreams recipe book which includes recipes used in the program and a budgeting template.
“It allows you to have better control of your situation and circumstance,” Bernard said. “You throw one of the meals into your slow cooker at eight o'clock in the morning and it cooks itself and is ready in eight hours by the time the kids get out of school and you get off of work. It takes away the stresses of not being able to [prepare food] when it's already being done.”
The 2017 Child and Family Poverty Report revealed Cape Breton had the highest poverty rate in the province. Going forward, Bernard hopes Slow Cooked Dreams will be available in places to help combat the program.
“I'd like to see the program familiar with not only those living in poverty but for anyone who wants to have a better grip on being able to move themselves forward,” Bernard said. “I want it familiar in the school systems, church organizations, pre-employment programs, Department of Community Services, university students, young mothers, seniors living on a fixed income– anyone can benefit from this. It's such a flexible program that has such great benefits”