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World Farmers and The Garden of Hope
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By Haydn Jensen

Perhaps you are familiar with Proverbs 12:11 -
Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.


For some of us, the idea of growing a productive garden is like chasing a fantasy...and makes no sense. You know who you are. We might start out with some hope that what we plant will eventually grow and produce something enjoyable. Sometimes though, because of neglect or distractions or inexperience, the garden does not turn out as we would like. Oh well—disappointment, but it's not a huge deal. For the Garden of Hope, though, plants are just part of the story, and "hope" is about plenty more than just growing vegetables. It's about providing hope where hope is often in short supply.

Garden of Hope is a social enterprise initiative started through North Park Community church and part of their Life Resource Centre (LRC) community outreach ministry to neighbourhoods in the Huron, Highbury and Kipps Lane area. The World Farmers group was created to answer an identified community need for newcomers to Canada to grow culturally familiar fresh produce for their families and community.

Newcomers face many challenges which can include unemployment, cultural alienation, language barriers, and very limited opportunities to establish themselves in a new country. Many come here after having spent years, if not decades, in refugee camps, forced to rely on others for their very survival. Imagine how one's dignity can be affected when you have no means through which to provide for yourself and your family.

Tendayi told me that we can only really help someone by first restoring their dignity, so the LRC wanted to love people through providing the dignity of work to support their families. In partnership with Stoney Creek Baptist Church the Garden of Hope and World Farmers gives one such opportunity.

Stoney Creek has generously provided 2.5 acres of land next to the church (Stoney Creek Baptist is on Highbury, a little north of Fanshawe Park Road) for the Garden of Hope. Starting out in 2012 with 35 plots, they later expanded in 2013 to 65 plots. Each one rents for $20 per season and additional plots are available for $10 each. Irrigation is provided through barrels, tanks and water lines. Although there is a shed available on site for gardeners to store rakes, hoes and shovels, most prefer to bring their tools with them each time. Even more remarkable is that many of these gardeners come on foot, carrying their tools—often walking for more than an hour each way.

Most gardeners are new Canadians, but there are also some "old Canadians" involved in what's becoming a very international effort. World Farmers come from such places as Bhutan, Nepal, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Burma. They bring with them not only their cultural food preferences, but also knowledge of how to grow the produce familiar to them. By sharing growing techniques and harvested food with neighbouring gardeners, friendships form and everybody benefits.

What do the World Farmers grow? Plenty of things--like okra, eggplant, swiss chard, red mustard, corn etc. Interestingly, some crops are not just grown for the “vegetable” or fruit of the plant. For example, pumpkin and squash leaves are carefully pruned while the plant is growing and used in soups. This is also true of sweet potatoes and beans, where the leaves of the young plants are harvested as it matures.

Tendayi told me that the gardeners also grow weeds...but they do it on purpose. North Americans generally consider pigweed and lambs quarter to be invasive weeds. But, these are actually nutritious and tasty, long enjoyed by other cultures in salads, soups and other dishes. Canadians attending the Harvest Party were surprised to learn this! Although the gardeners were a bit shy at first in sharing with their new Canadian friends, the inevitable enthusiasm generated by delicious food soon brought everyone together.

Cross-cultural experiences like this really exemplify the whole point behind the Garden of Hope. By giving such opportunity to those who face many limitations as newcomers to our country and city, the Garden of Hope provides hope, dignity, and honour to our new neighbours as they bring and share their culture in community with everyone else. Overall, the idea of dignity plays a pivotal role in how the entire Garden of Hope enterprise operates. Equipment and services are sometimes offered as a donation. However, the World Farmers group would prefer to pay for something themselves, rather than passively receiving a gift without having done anything for it. There is strength and honour in saying "we are able to pay", but weakness and humiliation in saying "we are not able to pay". For example, rather than allow a farmer to come in with a tractor to plough up the plot area for free, the Garden of Hope committee chose instead to pay for the service.

Looking forward, I asked Tendayi about future hopes for the Garden of Hope. The committee is considering many ideas, but one thing that came up was the need for a greenhouse to get seeds started. Garden centres can be expensive places to purchase plants, and there is potential for the World Farmers to earn extra money by selling extra seedlings. There is also some talk about expansion, fencing to keep the deer out, and ways to help the project become more profitable for the farmers. This is definitely an effort with plenty of potential, energy and, best of all, HOPE!

If you would like to become involved, or support the Garden of Hope in some way, you could get in touch with Tendayi directly or also contact Pastor David Cottrill at North Park.

Tendayi: tendayig@gmail.com
Pastor Cottrill: david.cottrill@northpark.ca
North Park Church: www.northpark.ca
Stoney Creek Baptist Church: www.stoneycreekbaptist.com