This neighbourhood garden is helping increase access to food for the community

Mar 5 2021, 8:28 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Jyoti Stephens – VP Mission & Strategy, Nature’s Path

I live in an urban environment, but in the spring and summer, I have some planters on my deck. We grow strawberries, broccoli, beans, mint, and lettuce. I can’t describe to you the look on my daughter’s face the first time she picked a strawberry that we grew ourselves! The strawberry that she planted, that she tenderly watered with her watering can. In the summer, her favourite place in the world is her grandfather’s garden. She helps him out, weeding and watering, and his garden is so abundant, we always go home with fresh fruits and veggies. 

But I’m privileged. I know not everyone has outdoor space, or planters, or a grandfather with a garden, or the same access to nutritious, fresh food. 

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, food access issues have only worsened. Job loss, reduced grocery store hours, decreased public transportation, and increased food costs are just some of the factors affecting people and their ability to feed their families.

As a second-generation co-owner of a Canadian organic food company, access to food is something we take to heart. At Nature’s Path, we’ve maintained annual commitments to support food banks with organic food donations, which we’ve increased throughout the pandemic, and do our best to keep our pricing as accessible as possible. But another way that we’re trying to support food sovereignty is through a perhaps under-recognized grassroots movement: community gardens.

Studies have shown that community gardens increase vegetable intake, food security, and even family and social relationships for the community members they support. These non-profit community gardens provide natural garden oases in areas often lacking in natural spaces while providing the opportunity for people to learn and grow their own fresh organic foods. In many cases, community gardens are serving as a link for people to reconnect to their traditional and ancestral foods and methods of growing — something so important in the food sovereignty conversation. Fruits and vegetables harvested are not only sent home with gardeners but also donated to local food banks and other similar organizations.

We started our Gardens for Good program in 2010 to provide financial support to garden projects such as these, and every year we hear about amazing work that community gardens are doing all over the United States and Canada. The letters we receive paint vivid pictures of the truly meaningful impact this small-scale movement is having. Recently we received an update from one of our 2018 garden grant recipients, Chula Vista High School Student Farm in California.

Jyoti Stephens/Nature’s Path

At Chula Vista, they set out to address equity issues in their food system, so the school created an elective course called “Social Justice in Food,” and soon their new student farmers got to work. Maria, one of the teachers and garden representatives at the school says: “[They] rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty and turned empty lots into thriving organic gardens and fruit tree orchards. With the generous grant from Nature’s Path, the Chula Vista High School farmers were not only able to sustain the garden, they were able to expand and grow. Hundreds of students were provided with healthy organic food and educational lessons.”

With their Gardens for Good grant, the students at Chula Vista:

  • Bought tools and gloves so more students could participate in the program.
  • Added fruit trees & organized lessons on planting, pruning and tree care from expert arborists. 
  • Purchased organic seedlings for each new harvest. 
  • Added new composting stations, to create their own soil, and divert food waste from the landfill.
  • Created a partnership between Wild Willow Farm Educational Center and Chula Vista High School with farming experts and botanists, who specialize in organic farming and carbon sequestration. Students received weekly lessons on farming techniques, composting, irrigation repair, and cooking.
  •  Built a washing station that is wheelchair accessible.

We want to support even more gardens like the one at Chula Vista, so this year we’ve decided to award 21 community gardens in the US and Canada with $5,000 each. Applications for our Gardens for Good grant are open now and close on March 24, 2021.

If you or someone you know is involved in a non-profit community garden project, we invite you to apply here.

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