“Art in the Garden” is a collaborative project between Halton Community Housing Corporation (HCHC), Halton Food Council (HFC), ArtHouse and social agencies in Halton Region with the goal of teaching life skills, in particular gardening, to children in disadvantaged communities.
To date, HFC has built and helped manage six community gardens within the community housing locations, three in Oakville and three in Burlington. Beyond teaching children how to grow their own food, community gardening teaches cooperation, leadership, focus, patience, as well as personal and social responsibility.
I joined the Halton Food Council at the end of May of this year. I was initially involved with one location but I am now assisting at three gardens. When I first heard about the Halton Food Council and the wonderful work they were doing I knew I wanted to be part of it. Their vision “to create a fair and sustainable food system that allows all residents to have access to nutritious, affordable, safe food” is achievable and I am honoured to be part of the team that will accomplish this goal.
In the spring the children and their families were encouraged to make a list of culturally relevant foods they would like to see grown in the gardens. Under the tutelage of HFC staff, the children grew potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, herbs, callaloo and other leafy greens. One location was able to grow two-meter tall sunflowers, another grew huge eggplants. Watering was a challenge in some of the gardens but nevertheless, the gardens still flourished. All community housing residents were encouraged to help with garden maintenance and with the harvesting. Certain foods proved to be more popular than others; in particular, herbs, green tomatoes, and zucchini were particularly coveted. The children loved the hands-on experience of gardening, including building trellises, giving funny names to the plant name-tags and painting the garden boxes.
As well as gardening, the children engaged in a number of activities designed to connect them with nature. Scavenger hunts were especially popular, being bitten by mosquitoes on the nature hike was a bit of a setback.
Our goal for next year is to expand to other housing developments, engage more children and their families in gardening activities and to encourage more residents to share in the harvests.
By Helen Stephenson