Things are happening since my previous guest column.
Last month, I reported on my woes that hardly anyone visits the Lions East End Playscape park across the street from where I live. I was discouraged by recent studies that showed we’re spending too much time sitting idle inside.
This month, I’m glad to report that a new community garden has been built at the park. The Riverview Community Garden is a collaborative effort of the City of Brandon, Healthy Brandon and Riverview School. In a short time this abandoned area has become a place for social gathering, growing food and providing education.
The Riverview Community Garden is one of the newest gardens to join the Brandon Community Garden Network. This network is comprised of volunteer garden co-ordinators from community gardens throughout Brandon. They work together on a common mission to build and grow a sense of community.
Magic happens in community gardens.
Community gardens nurture people to become leaders. The Brandon Community Garden Network partnered with Assiniboine Community College to develop a garden mentorship program. The goal of the program was to identify people with a passion for gardening and provide them with training on how to be a garden mentor. Fourteen people completed the 12-hour course and many of them now share their knowledge with new gardeners.
I met one of the garden mentors in my neighbourhood in the east end on Friday, June 20 (I usually get Fridays off from work). A group of students were gathered around one of the raised beds at the Riverview Community Garden. A woman holding four coloured stakes was speaking to the attentive students.
The woman was Dawnis Kennedy, a proud Ojibwa descendant. Kennedy is a garden mentor and volunteered her time to teach the students about respecting traditional uses of medicinal plants. Her teaching included a message to use medicinal plants for healing and not for recreational use.
Grade 4 students from Riverview School were gathered around Kennedy’s indigenous garden plot. The raised bed currently contains a few traditional plants on the outer edges. She’s also going to plant a traditional "three sisters garden" in the centre of the plot.
A three sisters garden includes beans, corn and squash. These plants complement each other’s growth. The corn provides a vine for the beans to grow. The beans are nitrogen builders that enhance the growth of other plants. The squash retains moisture in the soil and deters pests from invading the area.
Kennedy said that the four colours on the stakes represent the four directions in aboriginal culture. White represents the north, red represents the south, black represents the west and yellow represents the east. Each of the four stakes is positioned accordingly in the indigenous garden plot.
According to Lynn Nicol, Grade 4 teacher at Riverview School and garden co-ordinator of Riverview Community Garden, all the raised beds have already been claimed by nearby families. The goal is to build additional raised beds in the coming years.
The indigenous plot and the Riverview School plots are situated at the front of the garden. Nicol explained that the location of the plots symbolizes the partnership between First People (aboriginal) views and European immigrant views. These plots at the front also act as the gatekeeper of the garden.
There are other partnerships between community gardens and schools in Brandon.
Lawrence Jumaga has been volunteer co-ordinator at Alexandra Garden for seven years. Along with tending to the garden, he also mentors students from Betty Gibson School each spring and fall on how to be a gardener.
Blake Hamilton (no relation) is the garden co-ordinator for New Era Community Garden. He noted that many community gardeners are newcomers and don’t speak English. Community gardens have had a positive impact on newcomers. Gardening creates an avenue to interact with others without verbal communication.
"A garden is an expression of creativity and diversity," he said.
Hamilton also works for the Brandon School Division as part of the Community Schools Partnership Initiative. This project provides opportunities for children to be a part of their community. Last winter, he built an indoor garden at New Era School. He also devised a unique and impressive irrigation system for the indoor garden.
Currently, Hamilton is working on opening a salad bar at New Era School for students to purchase healthy food. Selling the produce that is locally grown in the indoor garden will help keep the cost of the salad bar low. He also provides hands-on education on gardening to students at New Era School.
"It’s quite a privilege to offer this to the community," Hamilton said.
The garden co-ordinators and mentors are true community builders. They inspire youth to foster social responsibility and citizenship.
But more importantly, they give their time so others can feel included. As Dr. Martin Brokenleg of Reclaiming Youth International has said, "Nothing happens until belonging happens."
» Vanessa Hamilton works in the health field in Brandon. The mother of three also dabbles in politics.