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New immigrants and Indigenous youth plant garden of flavour and commonality in Prince Rupert

A harvest of produce and experiences sampled at the HSEDS Taste the Garden community potluck

A feast of colour and flavour was savoured by more than 35 attendees of the Taste the Garden Potluck lunch at Hecate Strait Employment Development Society (HSEDS) on August 18.

It was the first time the Taste the Garden pilot program fruits of labour were sampled from the community garden, developed and grown by new immigrant clients from the Settlement Services Department with Indigenous youth from the Bade Runners Program in an unprecedented partnership.

Blade Runner’s Program Coordinator Katie Kowal said the food sovereignty garden project was a unique opportunity to unite the two groups as they may not have had the opportunity or space previously to interact or work on such a large project. More than 30 new to Canada clients and eight Blade Runners worked in consociation to plant the seeds of success more than three months ago.

“It was really cool to have like the youth come together with the newcomers and have everybody working together, problem-solving together and everybody learning from each other.”

The two groups, some of whom English is not their first language, became more comfortable with each other as time passed.

“My favourite part [of this project] is the community that was created, bringing together these Indigenous youth and the newcomers,” Kowal said

She explained it was enlightening to see the groups create relationships by talking to each other. She said they found commonalities through conversation and feasting together, which built a community.

“[Everyone] got to learn some new things, and then eating together and feasting together was really lovely,” she said.

Clients were invited to pick from the garden they helped to grow as well as from Ecotrust Canada’s Kaien Island Urban Farm, Janet Song Cornett-Ching, settlement services coordinator, said.

“[We wanted] to let’s all taste the freshness of what Prince Rupert can grow together. Today is that potluck to celebrate what we’ve done in three months,” she said.

The garden was seeded in the spring after a call out to the community for assistance. Expecting just a few bags of seeds, the gardening initiative blossomed when 300 bags of seeds were donated. Several sponsors donated items, such as soil, gravel, pallets, planters, and crab traps. The items were repurposed and upcycled into environmentally friendly raised garden beds.

Rain or shine, the participants came together to garden, she said.

“People just came with the willingness to learn. They didn’t know. I didn’t know, but we learned together,” the new gardener said.

With the high cost of produce and low availability of some items, the importance of teaching how to grow produce on the North Coast is extremely significant, Song Cornett-Ching said.

She has heard many stories from new immigrants to the north who have had financial issues and can’t find the food they would regularly eat as there is a higher premium on Asian vegetables in the north.

“One major thing with food, there’s a premium in being up north with everyone with all our supply chains and everything. Growing their food is free, in a way, and gives them the ability to learn and be empowered to do this on their own. They can grow their food and also teach others to grow their own food … It is important to them culturally,” she said.

“Overall, I think it’s extremely important to people, especially when they’re marginalized and can’t afford the food, to grow their own food. They feel like they can live better.”

Song Cornett-Sing said she hopes the food program garden can grow larger next year as it was a very self-sufficient and skill-based project for the group. For example she said, when upcycling the crab traps, if they were broken, they had to reach out to the community for information on how to fix them or how to mix the soil. She said some community members came in to assist with these needed items.

“We asked, and we received, and that was just my favourite part of this whole journey. People said yes, they wanted to be part of it.”

 K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist 
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