Growing through community

The University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus has become greener over the past few years thanks to the UMSU Campus Garden. A partnership with the Rainbow Community Garden has most recently resulted in Project Picnic, a plan to develop “a space that facilitates knowledge, sharing, community building, and healing” in the existing garden.

The UMSU Campus Garden operates in accordance to their guiding principles, all of which follow the consistent theme of valuing the earth, community, knowledge of fellow gardeners, and sustainable living.

“Our mission is to promote urban food production and community building in and beyond the University of Manitoba campus. The UMSU Community Garden provides a forum for people to connect and share our cumulative knowledge on gardening, soil, plants, medicine, food and more!” reads the garden’s website.

The Rainbow Community Garden, the other key member of Project Picnic, is an undertaking of the Immigrant Integration & Farming Worker Co-op (IIFC) that was developed by newcomers from Asia and Africa who had knowledge and experience in agriculture. In 2012, the Rainbow Community Garden had 119 families involved.

UMSU campus garden programmer Tammy Junghans explained the benefits of Project Picnic and how the space facilitates the creation and growth of relationships in the community.

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“When a single mom new to Winnipeg from a refugee camp comes with her children to the garden she does more than grow her own food to meet their physical needs. By sitting and sharing her stories with the listening ear of a fellow gardener, her emotional and relational needs are also being met. We are part of her healing journey.”

Their goal is to raise $4,500 to develop this area. Picnic tables can be sponsored for $250 each, which includes advertisement on the table for the sponsoring individual or group. The end result will be 10-15 colour picnic tables that will replace “a few rows of rusty old chairs on overgrown grass.”

“We have had some faculty sponsors, we’ve actually had students pull out their wallets and [say] ‘I’ll do a table,’ and I was thinking they were going to do a portion of a  table, but no. These students at U of M are so generous and have been sponsoring entire tables,” Junghans told Canstar Community News.

Junghans also notes that patients from Victoria General Hospital may benefit from visiting the nearby garden. She asserts that U of M students have a unique opportunity to learn about food sustainability and other cultures through relationship building  in the space.

“It’s exciting for us to meet refugee families and allow them to garden alongside us. We are hoping to see relationships form as we provide new opportunities for connection. We have, as garden leaders, started to build relationships and look forward to the mutual benefit that will bring. As gardeners are able to connect with community members we are able to build a stronger community.”

Junghans explained how the partnership with Rainbow Community Garden has affected her and her family directly. She has formed relationships with participants in the garden throughout her three years of involvement, which began through a volunteer position.

“Sharing life with people in the garden is exciting [ . . . ] We all want to be known and the garden is a very natural place to connect [ . . . ] My own children have met children from the new immigrant families and are building friendships. The diversity in relationship gives us a greater awareness of the world around us and how our choices affect each other.”

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Even aside from Project Picnic, the UMSU community garden is deeply advantageous.

“The campus benefits from the garden as students are encouraged to grow and learn to grow their own food. In an age when food security and accessibility are part of the conversation, we get to be one part of the solution. We do not use chemical fertilizers/weed killers/etc. in our garden and keep it as organic as possible.”

Interested participants can look forward to activities offered through the garden, such as: strawberry picking, informational workshops on creating compost, canning, using herbs in beauty supplies, and growing garlic, to name a few. Gardening plots are available to rent.

Junghans encouraged U of M grad students to get involved by volunteering in the UMSU Campus Garden, which will lead to “[opportunities] to build relationships, grow your own food, meet new people, learn something new, and build a stronger community.”

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