Kids from the Clifford Street Youth Centre prepare the community gardens for planting. (Photo courtesy of Clifford Street Youth Centre)

Community garden helps children flourish

“They’re so excited at the end of the summer when they get to take the plants they’ve grown home to share with their family.”

NORTH SYDNEY, NS—After tearing down their church hall, those attending St. John the Baptist Anglican Church hoped to use the space to support their community. They initially planned to build a children’s park, but when questions were raised about the liabilities, they connected with kids from a local youth centre and founded a community garden, instead.

“We connected with the kids by fluke, really,” says associate priest Debbie Strickland. “The police set up a community office in a near-by low-rental housing project and the kids started hanging out there, so it was turned into a community youth centre. They soon realized the kids were hungry and sometimes they hadn’t had a good meal that day.”

Aiming to help support the kids, the congregation built four garden boxes, each about 32 square feet, and invited the kids to help plant, water and weed the gardens.

“They came and helped through the summer to water and weed the gardens. In the fall they helped harvest and were each able to take home at least two great-big grocery bags of food they had grown. Then, using more food from the garden, the church put on a harvest feast and the kids were all invited with their families.”

In the past few years, the church has increased to eight gardens and even added a small flower garden this year.

“It’s worked out really well,” Strickland says. “We had little lessons with the kids and taught them they don’t always need to go to the grocery store to buy food. They’re so excited at the end of the summer when they get to take the plants they’ve grown home to share with their family.”

Rylee, 8, took part this year, and says he especially likes planting and has enjoyed learning to garden with other people.

Haley, 12, says she “likes to work with other people at the church and to watch the flowers grow. I’m looking forward to the harvest feast because it’s fun; it’s a big party and I like to spend time with the people.”

Hayden, 8, says he’s “excited about the harvest feast, because I can’t wait to eat it and see how good it turns out.”

That’s one part of the initiative youth centre volunteer Rebecca Walker says has been profoundly impactful.

“There are quiet children who help at the garden, but won’t say much and seem withdrawn,” she explains. “However, at the harvest when it’s time to take the vegetables home, they run to their houses to give the vegetables to their mom or dad. The children’s faces are beaming because they are proud of their accomplishments and that they get to provide for their families in some way.”

Walker also says the congregation has given the kids a lot of confidence by asking and valuing their opinions.

“Volunteers from St. John the Baptist ask what the children want to grow,” she says. “I don’t know that many people necessarily ask children for their input so it also makes them feel really valued. They are part of something big in their minds because it’s a community garden and the adults value their help.

“Community-wise, its creating these incredible inter-generational interactions. Volunteers are reaching out, getting the children involved in other community activities like carolling or making homemade cards to share with seniors who may not be able to get out. I think it’s also very positive for the community to see youth enjoying a beneficial community project.”

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About the author

Senior Correspondent

Craig Macartney lives in Ottawa, Ontario, where he follows global politics and dreams of life in the mission field.