First Nations youth grow cultural and culinary knowledge through gardening program

A program for First Nations youth in Calgary is using food as way to help kids learn more about themselves while trying their hands at gardening.

Indigenous kids in northeast Calgary are using food to learn about themselves

Indigenous teens like Shelley La Riviere are using gardening as a way to learn more about their culture and healthy eating, as well as learning new skills. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

A program for First Nations youth in Calgary is using food as way to help kids learn more about themselves while trying their hands at gardening.

The Girls and Boys Clubs of Calgary runs the Iiyika'kimaat program as part of its Indigenous Initiative stream, which focuses on culture, social inclusion and fostering a sense of belonging in Indigenous kids.

Iiyika'kimaat means "to try hard" in Blackfoot.

Gardening has become an important and popular part of the program with kids using an indoor hydroponic system to grow different herbs and vegetables at their centre in northeast Calgary.

Salad greens grown in the indoor garden tower are used to make healthy meals for the kids in the program. The program has had local chefs teach the teens what to do with the food once it’s grown. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"It's fun, I get to learn how to grow stuff and I never did that before," said Shelly La Riviere, one of the Indigenous teens in the free program.

"I like planting the seeds and watching them grow, coming here day by day and we saw the tiny seeds first sprout a leaf. It's really cool," said La Riviere.

Organizers say gardening is just another way to support young people — who range in age from 12 to 21 — and help build their confidence and sense of identity.

Many of the kids are from local Treaty 7 First Nations in Alberta, with others from Treaty 6, which reaches into Saskatchewan, Treaty 8, which includes part of the Northwest Territories, and from First Nations as far away as Ontario.

Some don't know much about their own history and culture.

Shelley La Riviere tends to vegetables growing in a high-tech hydroponic growing tower. Last year the program was able to grow outdoors and organizers are looking for an outdoor space again this year. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"They get some teachings that they may not have gotten at home or at school," said Christy Morgan, director for Indigenous initiatives with the Boys and Girls Club.

"They get their hands dirty, planting and they get to connect with our elders on traditional teachings like songs. Learning songs from other communities and the history behind that is super important for our young people and also benefiting from the food that they grow," said Morgan.

When the food is ready for harvest, the kids pick it with staff and prepare healthy meals.

"Some of our young people are just learning who they are as well, they don't even know. So it's about creating that space and time for them to explore who they are as Indigenous people and we help them on that journey," Morgan said.

Christy Morgan with the Girls and Boys Club says elders have been involved in the program, teaching kids traditional songs related to growing food from diffferent First Nations. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Last year the program had way more space, benefiting from an outdoor area at the Renfrew Community Association.

Morgan said they are now trying to find a new small outdoor space closer to the centre that would offer more growing room than the indoor tower they currently use.

"We're in the 32nd and Barlow area so something within a 15-minute perimeter would be more beneficial so we can get the kids to the space and back in time," said Morgan.

Morgan said they only need a couple of square metres. Just enough for a planter or two.

Anyone with outdoor space or planters in the northeast can contact the Girls and Boys Clubs of Calgary.


Dan McGarvey


Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: or tweet him @DanMcGarvey