Regina inner city community garden program expands to homes, helps fight for food security
Project expanded during pandemic from schools and now includes 19 homes
The alley adjacent to Garnet Street in Regina's North Central neighbourhood has dumpsters, some broken glass and stray patches of grass — but also features some small cedar garden boxes flourishing with life.
Patricia Zastre's smile lights up as she walks the alley giving a tour of her garden, one of several like it in the community. This year was the first full growing season she was able to participate in, after starting partway through 2020.
Zastre was inspired by the women's group Willow Warriors to learn Indigenous land-based teachings, including gardening. Learning to grow vegetables and sharing with others has helped on her journey of healing, she said.
"I used to be pregnant, living under a bridge, addicted. Today my husband and I own a home with a garden," Zastre said. "It shows me how far I've come and I'm very, very proud of the work that I did for myself."
Being outside also helps when dealing with depression and feelings of being unsafe in her community, she said. Now instead of watching TV, she's watching birds, picking weeds and connecting more with her Indigenous spirituality.
"Gardening, I think, is my foundation, just building myself up with my self-esteem," Zastre said. "It's helped me to connect with Mother Earth, to have a connection and appreciate growth and regrowth within myself."
Zastre's garden is one of 25 run by the North Central Community Association at private homes, schools and the Mâmawêyatitân Centre.
The association had a community garden for a decade, but started expanding in recent years to nearby schools and now has 19 resident gardens.
"It's really an empowering experience, learning how to plant your own fresh foods, vegetables, the whole nurturing process of that, seeing those things grow," said Murray Giesbrecht, executive director of the association.
Food security is a large issue throughout the North Central community.
The neighbourhood has been without a centrally-located grocery store for years, presenting problems for those with mobility or accessibility-related challenges, Giesbrecht said.
The gardens help, he said.
"If we can work with more folks to build more garden beds in their homes, it just has an amazing effect, a multiplier effect," Giesbrecht said.
Families, seniors, people on disability support stop by the garden, Maegan Krajewski said, the community garden co-ordinator. Community members can cut their grocery bills by visiting any time and harvest fresh vegetables, she said.
"I think gardens really do bring people together," she said.
"It's something that everyone can enjoy regardless of who you are. I think it does really make a difference. I really like how our program is structured because our motto is 'help yourself.'"
It also makes a difference for food sovereignty in the area, she said.
"Having control over what we grow, how we grow it and how we access it, I think really does mean a lot to people," Krajewski said. "You have the right to food and I think that's what this space provides."
Funding still needed to keep garden growing
Community members in the North Central area can still join the garden project. A survey is available on the North Central Community Gardens Facebook Page and start a conversation with Krajewski.
The gardens were funded a few different ways, but Giesbrecht said they are always looking for more funds or corporate sponsorship.
Gardening gives a mental and physical pick-me-up for residents, along with nutritious food, and he hopes to see more, he said.
"How tremendous would it be to see a couple hundred in a few years from now? That really is the ultimate goal, is to simply reproduce what we've been doing here on a much larger level," he said. "Sometimes it's small things that actually have a great impact."
Produce for all residents and gardeners
The 25 existing gardens produce pounds of vegetables, including squash, zucchini, baby corn, hot peppers and varieties of beans. The produce is then shared either by residents stopping by the community garden at the Mâmawêyatitân Centre or the weekly 'harvest table' event.
Krajewski and volunteers bag vegetables for families and seniors to take home. People can stay up to date about the garden on the association's garden's Facebook page.
Zastre said the sharing aspect is overwhelmingly positive for her spirit.
"It fills my heart, you know, and it just makes me happy just to know that I grew something and other people can eat it and everybody gets a meal," Zastre said.
"The garden is my foundation and I'll always be a part of the community garden and always willing to share and give and grow more."