This post is part of our series on the winning charities from the 2016 Aviva Community Fund and is provided by April Robinson, Fundraising and Event Coordinator at the Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce. This multi-part blog series features the stories behind the charities who won the 2016 Aviva Community Fund contest and the impact they will make with each project across Canada.
Imagine if it were possible to solve one community’s issues with poverty, unemployment and mental illness simply with food. By gardening together, members of the community bond, learn new skills, and enjoy the nutritious fruits of their labour while tackling some big problems.
In Ontario’s small Grey Bruce community, we face some of the highest rates of substance abuse, poverty, chronic illness, and unemployment. If any community could use some support in building hope, health, and community, it’s ours; and at the Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce (CMHA), we work to make this happen. We envision a community that values human dignity and offers every neighbour a supportive environment while achieving and maintaining overall well-being, and optimum mental and emotional health. Projects like our community garden help us achieve our vision of a healthy community.
Our successful community garden project has been a valuable part of the community for the last five years. The garden sits on previously unused surplus parkland, leased to us by the City of Owen Sound; what started as a few raised garden plots built on an abandoned tennis court, has now grown into a garden with 69 raised beds, a greenhouse, and a large compost area. The garden is cared for by 12 paid seasonal employees, all of whom live with mental health challenges. For some this was their first job and they have returned each summer since the start of the program. In addition to desperately needed employment opportunities, the garden provides fresh produce for our agency’s daily brunch program, feeding up to 60 individuals in Owen Sound daily year round.
Through this project, we have positioned ourselves among the leaders of community-based food security and wellness in the country! So one would think we would be content to end here, but we are not done just yet.
Our Budding Impact
About a year ago a few things happened at the Canadian Mental Health Association Bruce Grey.
First, we connected with Thomas Dean, an amazingly skilled landscape designer and horticulturist who had recently moved into the community and he introduced us to the concept of a food forest, otherwise known as an edible urban forest. A food forest is a woods like environment that allows various plants to work together to create a garden ecosystem that is intricately designed to promote long term, sustainable growth. Thomas previously helped create a food forest for a British Columbia branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association and witnessed the amazing benefits first hand.
Around the same time, we were introduced to the concept of community food centres and their ability to meet the growing need for food security to impoverished, precarious, and marginalized populations. Community food centres are multifaceted, integrated, and responsive programming in a shared space where food builds health, hope, skills, and community.
Over the past year, thanks to the Aviva Community Fund, we have begun to create a space where members from all walks of life can gather to garden and harvest healthy, accessible food.
Our food forest will feature edible labyrinth, a fruit and nut orchard, an outdoor classroom, raised garden beds, herbs, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, elderberries and shrub cherries, and even bee-friendly plants. The food forest will have accessible components for those with mobility issues, it will be completely self-sustaining with its own water source, and it will include an expanded composting program, a washing station, and potting table. The hope is that through the food forest, we can rehabilitate our local ecosystem, improve local food security, provide educational opportunities about gardening and agriculture, and celebrate growing healthy food for the benefit of the Owen Sound community. Our food forest will be a living, breathing food bank providing fresh fruits and vegetables to all who visit.
Not only will the food forest provide healthy fresh food to our CMHA brunch programs, surplus food grown will also be available for sale at the local farmers market where all proceeds will then be re-invested to support our garden programs. Most poignantly, however, our incoming food forest will feature a memorial tree plot with a beautiful arbour to help us remember those we have lost to their own mental health challenges. The space will provide companionship and a safe, inclusive, accessible space for all.