Conestoga prof plants Indigenous foods garden to help teach land management

The head of Conestoga College's Indigenous studies has spent his summer creating an Indigenous foods garden on land at Rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge.

'I listened to what the community was saying. I listened to what the land was saying,' prof says

An Indigenous foods garden is being created at the Rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge, Ont.. Leading the project is Andrew Judge, a a professor and co-ordinator of Indigenous studies at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont. (Submitted by Andrew Judge)

The sounds of birds and insects envelop Andrew Judge as he stands in a new garden at the Rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge, Ont. on a sunny August day.

Standing and listening is where Judge, whose Indigenous name is Mko'Mosé, started the process of creating an Indigenous foods garden.

The six-metre-wide circular food garden has sunflowers, corn and a sacred fire.

"We laid this fire in ceremony. It's not for roasting marshmallows. It's for honouring the ancestors," Judge said during a tour of the garden's layout.

Judge expects it will be completed before the end of August, but it will eventually grow items like wild plums, Saskatoon berries and hazelnuts. 

"What we intend on planting here is primarily Indigenous foods or native foods local to the region," he said.

"We really want to do foods that are perennials that will maybe not produce an abundance in their first year, but after a few years, they can generate generationally. Indigenous thinking thinks long-term, we think many generations ahead — seven generations ahead," Judge added.

"This place, for me, I'm thinking seven generations ahead so that seven generations from now those young people don't necessarily have to build spaces like this, they can just maintain them."

Mko'Mosé Indizhnikaz, whose English name is Andrew Judge, describes the project in a video posted to YouTube by The Indigenous Collective. (YouTube/The Indigenous Collective)

'We don't take the time to just observe'

Judge is a professor and co-ordinator of Indigenous studies at Conestoga College and is co-founder of a video series called The Indigenous Collective.

He's had the idea for the garden since 2012.

He's using Indigenous principals in the garden, which include carefully observing the environment when developing the landscape, in this case, into a spiralling terraced garden.

"That's often missed in this society. We don't take the time to just observe and see, 'What can we work with here?'" he said.

Listen to Andrew Judge tour the garden with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's Adetayo Bero:

Conestoga College professor Andrew Judge has started an Indigenous food garden in Cambridge at the RARE community garden property. 4:26

As more people join the project, they will be taught how to work in the space, maintain it and utilize it in the best ways.

They will use sustainable practices, and Judge hopes when people come to work in the garden, they will learn about Indigenous land teachings, which can be shared with others in the wider community.

He said the next five years will be devoted to providing opportunities for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to learn how to work the land in a sustainable way, using Indigenous knowledge.

"I listened to what the community was saying. I listened to what the land was saying, what all these pieces are saying, and they kept sharing, and now, we have this beautiful space," he said.