Garden project in Six Nations connects youth with land and each other
'Food is a part of our identity,' says Denise Miller
A family garden in Six Nations, Ont., is bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth together to learn about Indigenous food systems and gardening techniques.
Denise Miller, who is studying Indigenous studies and sustainable agriculture and food systems at Trent University, said she grew up playing outside and doing yard work but never had the opportunity to learn about gardening.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, her father decided to turn an acre of land on the family's property into a large garden.
Miller began helping her father out in the garden but they soon realized they couldn't do it all on their own.
She put together a project for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth to come help. She applied for mini-grants so they could offer the youth some payment for their time and Revitalizing Our Sustenance was born.
"Food is a part of our identity," said Miller.
"I wanted to create a youth-oriented project so that kids have the option to be more outside and to learn where they come from and gain a sense of identity."
There have been two workshops this summer, one in August and another in September, that were each two days long.
The youth learned about harvesting vegetables and also some techniques for preserving them, like canning tomatoes.
"I think that's what our community is missing is more things to be more active and have outdoor activities," Miller said.
"That's a huge part of why we're struggling as youth in terms of mental health — we don't have a lot of things that are geared toward being on the land."
Miller said when you're on the land doing things, it can be a positive outlet and healing experience.
'This is what feeds you'
Rick Miller said that unlike his daughter, he grew up working the land on his family's farm.
He had a career as an ironworker but is retired now and decided to build the garden because of anxiety around food security with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Miller said he got a small tractor and a rototiller and with the help of two other men turned some of his family's land into space for the garden.
He said his daughter's idea to invite youth to work in the garden really hit his heart when he saw them out working on the land.
"What really hit it off was when they got to pick, we let them take a whole bunch home," he said.
"This is what feeds you. This goes back hundreds of years. This is how we're supposed to live off the land."
The program is open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, which Denise Miller said is a chance to build better relationships with each other.
"A lot of the time non-Indigenous people have this idea of us and these misrepresentations of who we are as people," she said.
"I think having the garden and being outside builds those conversations about who we are as people, not just to educate them, but to have interpersonal relationships."
Miller said she's applying for a three-year grant that would allow her to work with 10 youth for a whole year so they'll learn how to properly plant and prepare seeds and, as the season goes on, how the plants grow.
She's also hoping to bring on a mentor to help facilitate the discussions.