Flying Dust's Riverside Market Garden a story of perseverance

Since its inception in 2009, Flying Dust's Riverside Market Garden has grown from a humble two-acre operation to a 172 acre operation, employing nearly 20 workers.

Garden lost its funding 1 year; people decided to work for free

The Flying Dust First Nation is located adjacent to Meadow Lake and is where the garden started up in 2009. (Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity)

Len Sawatsky said there were several times when he thought Flying Dust First Nation's Riverside Market Garden might go under. 

Starting in 2009 as a two-acre plot, the garden has grown to 172 acres of land which now employs 16 people.

The garden provides organic food to those in Flying Dust and the surrounding community and has a contract with Thomas Fresh to supply organic potatoes.

The garden now has plots over a space of 172 acres, which is used to organically grow tomatoes, potatoes, squash and other vegetables. (Leonard Sawatsky)

"Most projects that get started on First Nation territory have a short life span because they are dependent on year-to-year funding and always applying for further grants," Sawatsky, general manager, said.

"Many times the bureaucracy or the political system doesn't come through so projects are abandoned."

Sawatsky wondered if the garden was going to be one of those projects which was abandoned but it persevered.

In 2011, CBC reported on the garden when the funding had dried up but people volunteered their time and worked for free for a time.

The garden has been under full band administration for three years now, and is continuing to grow.

Twenty-five acres of the land available are used for Thomas Fresh produce, which Sawatsky referred to as one of the "big boys" of the produce industry. 

Addressing health

Elder Lillian Chatelaine has been involved with the garden since the start. 

Chatelaine noted there has been some eagerness this year, as people have been asking what will be planted and offering up suggestions as to what they would like to see. 

The garden grows corn, beans, squash, tomatoes and a wide variety of other vegetables spread out over its many plots. 

The garden originally started as a way to get people to work in a community-based garden but it was also a way to try and improve health, Sawatsky said.

"It was always an attempt also to deal with the high incidents of disease in Aboriginal communities," he said, referring to diabetes and diet-related cancers. 

"It's very important for the community to have vegetables," Chatelaine said.

People can drop by and pick up the vegetables or delivery is available; cooking classes are available to teach community members how to make healthy recipes, she added.

"They teach the young mothers or whoever wants to learn to cook, they do that," Chatelaine said. 

Flying Dust First Nation is located in west-central Saskatchewan, adjacent to the city of Meadow Lake, approximately 300 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

With files from CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition and CBC News