Rhea Good’s first memory is of school. Though she wanted to be an architect, she eventually grew into the teacher, volunteer, forager, and author she is today.
THE BATTLEFORDS — When Rhea Good was young, she wanted to be an architect. Thinking back, she can recall her first memory, sitting at a desk in her childhood classroom and wanting to read.
“My teacher was Miss. Laura Lawson, and she passed out the readers. I already knew how to read so I quickly flipped through the pages and finished mine. I walked up to her desk and asked if I could have a new book, please, and she said ‘no, sit back down, we’re going to start reading this.”
Good realized very quickly that pacing in school was not what she expected. Though she was a good student and has a gift for words, Good said, laughing, “that was a disappointment.”
Despite this, she quickly left her architectural dreams behind and decided to be a teacher, specifically a high-school English and french teacher.
“I drew many house plans in my childhood, and at some point in high school, I changed my mind and decided to be a teacher. My father was a teacher…I was determined to be a high-school English teacher. Architecture fell by the wayside.”
Good was born in BC, celebrating four birthdays in Fort Saint John’s before her parents brought her to Saskatchewan. It was here that she formed her first memories.
Good graduated from NBCHS in 1988 before convocating from the USask in 1993. She has taught across Saskatchewan, ranging from Saskatoon to One Arrow First Nation, and often specialized in special education, where she always found jobs.
Speaking on education, Good said,
“Education is just a wonderful career to think that you’ve been given the opportunity to positively impact young people. It’s a cliche, but that’s what it is. That’s the truth. Such unlimited potential. Every day with your students is just a gift. That’s what attracted me to education, and still does.”
Good’s Ukrainian Heritage
Good is also firmly grounded in her maternal Ukrainian heritage, which she believes influenced her love of the earth. It began with Ukraine Dancing.
“The Svoboda dance club still exists here in North Battleford, and the original teacher, Ellaine Balitch, was the founder of the organization. That was my wonderful teacher.”
Of the girls who participated in the dance club, Good danced with them Grade one through twelve and became close friends. They keep in touch, with their years of dance forming a longstanding friendship.
“We’d get asked to dance at different events around the community, annual events: river heights lodge, dance festival, etc… for many years, there was a harvest dinner and dance at the Alex Dillabough centre.”
Good’s Great-Grandmother was a Ukrainian immigrant and strongly valued the garden for the bounty that it could produce.
“I feel that I’ve inherited my love of plants from my maternal side. My Grandmother was a farmwife, so her garden was her main occupation… I’ve always known that gardening is just something that is important to practice in my life. To be really connected with my land and the food that I made with my own hands.”
Though her Grandmother and Mother also gardened, Good believes that some of those practices are connected to her Ukrainian ethnic heritage.
“Mom always had a garden too, but it was always more romantic to go to your grandmother’s house rather than your backyard garden.”
Holodomor Awareness Committee
“In 2016, I was asked to join the Holodomor Awareness and Education Committee, which is mandated to promote Holodomor awareness, and most of the people on the committee were teachers.”
Every year, during November, the committee tries to foster a learning culture in classrooms, and communities across Canada, while raising awareness about the USSR Genocide that killed millions.
“And I had come across the anecdote in another history book. It told the story of Maria Soroka, whose grandfather hid grain in bottles and then hid the bottles in the forest to hopefully prevent his family from starving.
Good does school presentations for Holodomor Awareness week and then makes bottles of grain with the children they can take home. She began her presentations by discussing Maria Soroka’s story as a foray into the morbid history of the famine.
As with remembrance day or the Holocaust, certain aspects of our history are taught to children in an often sombre tone. Good wondered if there was a way to approach it with her history in education. For Remembrance Day, students can expect to read the Flanders Field Poem, watch a video, make a picture, do a craft, etc. But Good finds that those resources are lacking for Holodomor.
Good wondered if there was a children’s book on the subject to help make learning easier. She wanted to make it approachable and bring additional context for school children.
“In the spring of 2020, I was doing a full-time teaching contract, and then we were all sent home for the pandemic. And the director came to the school and said ‘we don’t know what’s happening. The school’s going to be closed for a week for sure.”
Good was asked to take the week off and refrain from doing any school work and was told to “not do anything” Good took it literally, and with a very unexpected nine-day break, Good began working on her debut book.
She thought, “This is the gift I’ve been given. I’m going to take this story and write a book about it. I just got focused, found an illustrator, and started to go back and forth with her. I just made it all happen.”
Good wrote her book in nine days.
“That’s how the book came to be, and now I have the book that I would imagine. It’s a real good story.”
But Good didn’t stop with Bottle of Grain. She looked towards a second book that had sat on the back burner for 20 years. Coupled with her own experience surviving her abusive first marriage and her love of reading, Good began to write again and published her second book, Incremental.
“It was a book that sat in an envelope for 20 years,” Good said.
Good refrained from speaking further on the contents of her memoir, adding, “If god leads you to pick it up, you’re meant to pick it up. And if he doesn’t, he doesn’t.”
A brief excerpt from the back blurb reads,
“How did my marriage go from bliss to abuse? It was incremental. This book includes the journal I kept during my last year of an abusive marriage. Up close, it is a detailed account of what he said and did…Evil glazes the eyes. Watch for it.”
Then, in the fall of 2021, the Discovery Co-op Association reached out to Good, commissioning her to write a children’s book for their 90th anniversary. The book is titled, What Does the Co-op Mean to you? and follows the story of a boy whose father plans to apply to sit on the board of directors.
“He and his Dad work together to write the speech that his dad is going to have to give to apply to the board. So they do research together for the speech, and the boy goes on adventures around the Battlefords about the history of the Co-op.”
Though What Does the Co-op Mean to you? is currently sold out, Bottle of Grain and Incremental are available online at Indigo.ca and Amazon.ca, and at the following locations as well:
Chic & Shabby,
Fisher’s Drug Store,
Remedy’s Pharmacy in Battleford,
Redberry Pharmacy in Hafford,
SaskMade Store in Blaine Lake,
Good has also written her fourth book titled What Would Alice Do? which is based on the life of her Grandmother, a lifelong member of the Battlefords.
“I need to do some editing this fall, but hopefully, it will be published by spring.”
Good is also planning to publish a cookbook focusing on her passion for nature and the environment. Titled Zone 2, from Garden to Table, the cookbook will focus on fresh fruits and vegetables grown in this area and the food they can provide.
“I feel like there isn’t a good book that gives people lots of recipe choices for the produce that they can produce in this region. There are lots of recipe books that talk about fresh produce and vegetables, but a lot of those ingredients are not Zone 2.”
Self-Reliance & Gardening
The idea for her cookbook stems from a deep passion for sustainability and self-reliance that she believes stems equally from her Grandmother and Great-Grandmother and when she took a year at McGill university studying to be a teacher.
“I took a class in American literature, and one of the essays we read was called Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson. That essay had such a profound effect on my life. I focused on being as self-reliant as I could be with my food… That’s my goal.”
Good has learned many tricks that go with it, including composting, seed saving, canning, and baking from scratch. She was also instrumental in bringing Loop Resources to the Battlefords, a program that recycles food waste from grocery stores to the food bank and local farmers.
“A friend told me about Loop. I looked into it and thought it was a fantastic idea. There are just so many tons of food waste that go to landfills instead of being composted. It’s a cycle that our society needs to harness… It’s absolutely a win-win. I wish it was commonplace, if not mandated practice.”
With Leanna Ducommun, who was working as the Marketing Director at the Discovery Co-op, they began the program in the Battlefords. Good recalls telling her the news,
“She was so excited. She said she was literally jumping up and down in her chair…It’s absolutely a win-win.”
Good was also forced to close her local non-profit, which worked towards building healthy, sustainable food practices in local schools. There was, as Good says, an unfortunate “lack of cooperation from local school boards.”
She has begun tutoring and wildcrafting in her spare time around writing and editing her upcoming books. Her next book is expected to release next year, and she is planning events for Holodomor remembrance events at the end of November.
Now retired, Rhea Good has only options ahead of her. What will she do next?