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Garden cultivates community

October 3, 2017

Eunice Roasting, Jeanine Rain, Karen Rabbit and Shantai Ward canned strawberry jam during a harvest workshop at the Montana First Nation community garden.

Space ‘brings people together’

Story by: Shelly Willsey

Karis Potts-Chief’s grocery shopping now takes place in a lush garden.

The establishment of a community garden on Montana First Nation has given moms-to-be like Potts-Chief access to fresh produce mere minutes from home.

“I’ve never gardened before, and everything tastes so much better,” says the 19-year-old Potts-Chief, whose first child is due in January. “The closest grocery store is about 20 minutes away in Ponoka, but now I can just walk down the road.”

The garden was established in June, when the Alberta Health Services’ Maternal Newborn Child and Youth Strategic Clinical Network (MNCY SCN) asked community members how they could support maternal health in the area.

Community members provided their input and ideas for the garden during a community engagement meeting. They chose a site next to the Montana Band Office and, through a grant from Merck for Mothers and Alberta Innovates, they purchased supplies and hired Erik Lee as community gardener.

Lee built raised beds that make the garden more accessible to pregnant moms and protect the plot from gophers. The wide variety of plants – potatoes, peppers, squash, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, beets, herbs, kale and a variety of fruit-bearing plants – are used in workshops teaching families how to harvest produce and prepare salads, jams, and pickled vegetables.

“Food is security,” says Dr. Richard Oster, MNCY SCN Senior Project Manager. “Beyond the nutritional and physical benefits, the garden is a space that brings people together. Anyone can drop in – elders, families, kids, moms and dads – to gain cultural, spiritual, and social support.”

Montana First Nation intends to expand and improve the garden next year, and the MNCY SCN plans to work with other Maskwacis communities in the coming years to establish more gardens.

“This community has had a lot of struggle, and sometimes pregnancy outcomes aren’t always the best,” says Oster. “The garden will help support healthy moms and healthy babies, and a healthy community.”

The $1.3-million grant is being used to support the community garden, as well as other MNCY SCN initiatives including Pregnancy Pathways, connecting Edmonton’s homeless, pregnant and parenting women with homes, and a maternal peer support project in Little Red River Cree Nation.