Regina community garden grows to welcome refugee families

Regina's South Zone Community Garden has expanded to create 24 new plots for Syrian refugee families and one family from Tanzania in Africa.

Majority of the 24 refugee families given plots were farmers in their home countries

Organizers, refugees and a translator pose beside the new community garden plots. The plots are 20 by 25 feet and each family receives their own to grow what they choose. Majority of the families taking part in the project were farmers back in their home countries of Syria or Tanzania. 'It's an ideal project for them,' said organizer Zahid Sheikh. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Regina's South Zone Community Garden has expanded to create 24 new plots for Syrian refugee families and one family from Tanzania in Africa.

The gardens are meant to help the families be outside, meet other Canadian families and grow fresh food. 

"Regina has received a large number of Syrian refugees," said Zahid Sheikh, the organizer credited with the original idea.

"They are coming from war-torn zones. They are going through trauma. So we wanted to provide them an opportunity where they can reconnect with the earth."

I hope that this garden will be a place of peace, of happiness, and refuge for you.- Robert Guthrie

It started when Sheikh saw a pamphlet in Peavey Mart for a community grant. The idea was supported by the community and the South Zone Community Garden board. They applied, received $7,000 in funding, and are now ready for the refugees to get started.

Twenty-four plots are prepped for the Syrian and Tanzanian refugees to garden on. The gardens and supplies will be free for the 24 families this year and volunteers are planned to be available for any questions the families have about crops or growing in the Saskatchewan climate. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

"It's a message from old-time Regina residents to newcomers that we are open-hearted," Sheikh said.

"We are here to help you, and we are here to help you to integrate and contribute in the new country."

Experienced growers

Anestory Mhozya, who is originally from Tanzania in Africa, said he was happy to hear about the garden project from the Regina Open Door Society.

"I garden back home," he said. "Actually not just garden, I farm. We farmed maize, we farmed cassavas, potatoes, a lot." 

He said he was excited for the opportunity to grow his own food because buying fresh produce for his family is expensive.

Fawzi Almazalma is from Syria and had a farm there with about 120 olive trees back. He said he is looking forward to gardening here, even if growing olives is not a likely prospect. 

"I like farming," he said. "This is my dream in my country — big farm and stay beside the vegetables."

Kafiah Issa, who spoke with the help of a translator, also grew food back in Syria. 

"It's my first time to grow something here, so I don't know what's going to work here," he said.

"It's going to be a new experience for me."

A garden refuge

Robert Guthrie, one of the project organizers, said he thought a familiar activity like gardening would help the newcomers get settled and integrate into the community.

"I've never been in the position of being dislocated, displaced, a refugee, but I can imagine it would be very traumatic, very difficult," Guthrie said.

"I imagine if I had an opportunity to engage with gardening or farming, which is something that I've enjoyed my whole life, that it would be an opportunity that I would appreciate."

Robert Guthrie (left) and Zahid Sheikh and the South Zone Community Garden created two new garden areas for refugee families in Regina. This meant extending the water line, rototilling, hauling in new soil, buying seeds and plants, and buying hand tools. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

At the meeting with around two dozen refugees, Guthrie said "I hope that this garden will be a place of peace, of happiness, and refuge for you."

Guthrie said the project had challenges including extending the water line and preparing the new plots, as well as finding refugee families to participate, but the Open Door Society helped out with connections and translation. 

Guthrie added the project wouldn't have been possible without the grant and community support they received.

With files from CBC Radio's Morning Edition