Abegweit First Nation's first community garden a huge success

A new garden project from the Abegweit First Nation in Scotchfort, P.E.I. is developing skills among young people, and helping people eat healthier food.

20 people from the Abegweit First Nation helped plant, maintain and harvest the garden

Local farmer Stephen Cousins is mentoring young workers, including Brezlyn Knockwood, so they can maintain the garden on their own. (Laura Chapin/CBC )

A new garden project from the Abegweit First Nation in Scotchfort, P.E.I. is developing skills among young people, and helping people eat healthier food. 

About 20 people from the nation helped plant, maintain and harvest the one hectare plot over the last five months. 

"It's absolutely amazing," said a smiling Brezlyn Knockwood.

The 21-year-old didn't expect to get into gardening, "But now I can't imagine myself going and having a home without having my own garden," he said.

Brezlyn Knockwood had never gardened before, but now can't see living without one. (Laura Chapin/CBC )

'Room to fail, room to learn'

Knockwood was one of several young people from Abegweit who grew crops on The Shepherd's Farm in Mount Stewart last summer, mentored by farmer Stephen Cousins.

This year Cousins told band officials the garden should be in the community. 

This is the first year the Abegweit First Nation has had a one hectare community garden behind the band office in Scotchfort, P.E.I. (Laura Chapin/CBC )

"One of the chiefs out west said to his people, 'We don't owe you dependency, we owe you opportunity' and that's my heart — to give people an opportunity, room to fail, room to learn," said Cousins.

Crops decided on by community members

Community members decided what would be grown by posting on the Epekwitk Gardens and Preserves Facebook page. 

A long list of crops were all grown pesticide-free: asparagus, raspberries, potatoes, strawberries, corn, lettuce, spinach, winter squash, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, beets, rhubarb, yellow beans, pumpkins, carrots, cauliflower, salad greens, herbs, broccoli and onions. 

"This is something that makes a lot of people happy," said Knockwood. 

Teaching new skills

Cousins said being involved in the garden has taught young people skills like being on time, taking initiative, learning how to do marketing, and working rain or shine.

Knockwood said one of his favourite parts of the project is delivering fruits and vegetables from the garden to elders and to children at the community's daycare. 

"It's the younger generation, and they think it's absolutely amazing when you tell them where it came from, and they see carrots with the heads on, and they think that's amazing," said Knockwood.

'We don't just want to plant hope'

Produce from the garden is also being sold at the Epekwitk Gas Bar.

"It's gone very well. And I feel it's gone well because they have ownership," said Cousins. 

Produce from the garden is being sold at the Epekwitk Gas Bar in the community. (Laura Chapin/CBC )

Cousins wants to see the garden grow even bigger next year, adding an apple orchard and some grapes, and getting more customers off-reserve, including custom growing for restaurants, and possibly even adding a greenhouse. 

'Eating so much healthier'

Abegweit First Nation officials are all for expanding the project.

"We have many elders who have their own plots up there, and they go and pick their own fresh produce, and they've been eating so much healthier. It's great," said Jenene Wooldridge, director of operations at the Abegweit First Nation. She said some families are doing the same.

The garden was started with funding from the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. Employment Services Program which is funded by Services Canada. Funding and support has also come from the Abegweit First Nation and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of P.E.I., and all the seeds and plants were donated by Vesey's Seeds and Vankampen's.

Anyone is welcome to visit the garden. Just drop in at the band office, and staff will point you in the right direction.