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Planting the seeds for healthy communities across Canada

Published on October 14, 2012

Youth planting a garden box at Sprott House. Photo: Evergreen.Youth at YMCA Sprott House plant vegetables in garden boxes (Photo: Evergreen)

By: Sheleena Forfar, Project Manager, Community Development and
Ashlee Cooper, Urban Agriculture Coordinator

We pull up the driveway at Toronto’s YMCA Sprott House, a supported housing residence for young people between the ages of 16 and 24, on a Thursday evening, our electric car packed with gardening supplies from Evergreen’s Garden Market. It is our fourth visit to the site this season and we are eager to see how the garden has flourished in the two weeks since our last visit. As we walk up to the building, Sprott House’s case manager supervisor greets us as she lugs an oversized old stereo onto the back steps. Two youth residents follow her out and lead us toward the raised garden beds. They are smiling, excited to show us the crop of fresh herbs and the first tiny signs of tomatoes peeking through the vines.

We are soon joined by eight more youth, all residents at the House, and together we walk through the youth-designed, youth-built, parking-lot-turned-community-garden together. We make notes on the progress in the garden and decide which plants to harvest for our two-part workshop on organic growing. After a few minutes, we return from our walk around the garden, just as the sound of hip hop music finally blasts from the old stereo. One youth turns to us, starts dancing a little and says, “Now we’re ready. Let’s get our garden on!”

We are here as part of Evergreen’s Seeding Healthy Communities, a national community development program supporting underserved neighbourhoods through hands-on learning experiences that are rooted in meaningful engagement and urban transformation. The program concentrates on building and sustaining community-based urban agriculture projects from the ground up, and promoting community building through integrated skills training and educational workshops.

Choosing healthy food is challenging when access to options is limited due to barriers such as affordability, transportation or feeling comfortable in the kitchen. Seeding Healthy Communities seeks to address these barriers by supporting marginalized communities across the country in taking ownership of their food production and making healthy food choices that are inexpensive and culturally relevant.

Our ongoing partnership with YMCA Sprott House is one example of many community-based programs we are facilitating this year, which also include a second garden build at Eva’s Satellite in Toronto, an extensive edible landscape at Evergreen Brick Works, and ongoing collaborations with a number of community health centres and First Nations gardens across the city.

Similar programs in Vancouver offer opportunities for residents to participate in projects such as the community garden at City Hall, experiential workshops for the children’s camp programs, and a community-driven, city-wide event to celebrate Vancouver’s food and cultural diversity. In addition, thriving partnerships within community spaces like the Great Northern Way Urban Orchard have provided shared platforms for engaging people in discussions about the productive potential of urban landscapes and opportunities for active participation in food growing.

Back at YMCA Sprott House, our dance-party-garden-workshop has turned into a discussion about our upcoming trip together to Avalon, an organic apple orchard in Innisfil, Ontario. The youth are laughing about getting to ride in a school bus again and discussing apple recipes like “making freezer jam again… and pies… and a crumble-type thing.” Amidst their enthusiasm, we are reminded that at their core, Evergreen’s programs are about empowering people, and sharing a sense of excitement about making a difference in our communities… sometimes with a background hip hop beat.