People and programs 03/14/2014

It’s the middle of March, and the ground is still very frozen. It’s been a long winter. And gardeners everywhere are itching to touch seeds to soil.

While the winter is an important time to rest and take stock after a gardening busy season, the gardening group at The Table Community Food Centre took no such rest this year. The group has been planning for their community garden since the new year as part of The Table’s new winter series of gardening workshops. For some who live in rural areas, winter can mean social isolation. Thirty-five people have come out to sessions since January to learn about everything from planning a vegetable garden and choosing what to grow to how to start seeds. The winter series has been an invaluable experience — an opportunity for volunteer gardeners to stay connected and talk shop with fellow enthusiasts throughout the darkest, coldest months.

Community is just one of the many attributes the garden offers participants. It can also be a space for deep mental and emotional healing. Chronic food insecurity can have severe effects on both physical and mental health. It's difficult to feel calm, empowered, or upbeat when hunger is gnawing and there’s not enough money to buy food.

April Mallett, The Table’s Community Gardens Coordinator, has seen the positive effects spending time in the garden can have on individuals. She describes how one participant’s longstanding depression lifted through her involvement in the garden. “Overall, when you volunteer at The Table you feel like you’re contributing in a useful way which boosts self-esteem. But being outside, growing plants, touching soil, and enhancing life adds another level.” The impact of improved nutrition resulting from increased access to fresh produce can also have big impacts of physical and mental health. 

For April, the garden is also an opportunity to experiment with the art of gardening, and about allowing people to try out their ideas and reap their success or learn from their failures. It allows people to take on that role of expert for a time, which can be very empowering. This is especially true for those who are regularly discounted based on assumptions about their knowledge and capacities. “You put work in and you can take food home in the garden; you’re listened to and heard when you have advice to contribute,” described one garden volunteer.

Garden plans surfaced through the workshop series include making use of the hoop house to grow more early- and late-season crops like greens and peas. The crop plan for the 8,000-sq-ft community garden is also closely aligned with the requests of the kitchen and food bank, bringing the positive impacts improved nutrition can have on physical and mental health to a wider swath of The Table's community.