IF you combine the wisdom and patience of a 70-year-old senior with the enthusiasm and curiosity of a seven-yearold child and place them together in the garden, something akin to magic can happen.
And that is what the Edible Garden Project (EGP) is hoping to grow when their five new Intergenerational Gardens are built this month at North Shore Neighbourhood House childcare centres.
Funded by the United Way and Neptune Bulk Terminals, the program plans to match seniors with children under the age of 12 and place them in the garden to engage the children in learning about growing veggies and gardening while providing seniors with personal contact and a feeling of belonging to the community.
I spoke to Emily Jubenvill, the community co-ordinator for the Edible Garden Project, to ask her about the program and its benefits.
The idea for the program grew from the EGP's Fed Up program that teaches kids how to grow food and make healthy snacks with it, and the generosity of Queen Mary elementary teacher Carol McClelland, who started bringing her class's "Spuds in Tubs" up to the seniors' residence that her father was living in. The ritual became an annual activity to grow the potatoes, harvest and eat the bounty with the seniors and students.
Jubenvill said, "The positive impact of intergenerational gardening and relationship building became very clear from that experience. The idea to build gardens into child care centres and connect seniors to support activities and share their knowledge seemed like a perfect fit after the successes that we had with the Fed Up program." Seniors from Silver Harbour, Summerhill Residences, and the North Shore Neighbourhood House seniors programs will be asked for feedback and participation in the program. Volunteer descriptions for seniors wishing to participate are also posted at the Seniors Hub at North Shore Community Resources. The EGP is also sending notices home with children in the Kids' Clubs and various preschool sites to invite their grandparents into the program. There will be at least two seniors at each garden site interacting with preschool or schoolaged children.
According to Jubenvill, seniors and children will be partnered like any community relationship-building effort. "The relationships will form organically over time as the participants spend more time with each other in the gardens." Jubenvill along with staff from the North Shore Neighbourhood House child care centres will be participating and supervising the outcomes.
It's always a challenge to co-ordinate young minds with mature hands so I am interested to see how this pilot program will develop. Jubenvill said, "We want both children and seniors to participate in all aspects of growing a food garden - building the garden beds, planning, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, composting and eating! We are also designing the gardens to have an element of play space, so the children will engage in the gardens as a fun place to explore plants, insects and food." These intergenerational gardens will have two garden plots at each child care centre, cared for communally by the children, staff and seniors participating in the program. Food will be eaten at the child care centres, and any extra could be donated to the Edible Garden Project's Sharing the Bounty program. I am always concerned about who owns the land these programs operate on, for longevity reasons. According to Jubenvill, "The land these gardens are built on is owned by the school board at all five sites, and the gardens will be operated by the North Shore Neighbourhood House childcare centres. The five intergenerational gardens will be located at North Shore Neighbourhood House child care centres located at Westview, Novaco, Norgate, Learning Together and Ridgeway Preschool and Kids Club.
The rock star of the North Shore food security scene is Heather Johnstone and she has brought together the people and organizations involved in making this project happen. Jubenvill told me, "We can't keep Heather out of the garden, so I'm sure she'll be spending time with participants and sharing her own knowledge!"
Jubenvill's role of recruiting and engaging volunteers in the broad work of the EGP is no small job. I asked her what motivation she gets from her work and she told me, "I really love it when I see the faces of these children brighten up when we say it's time to go work in the garden or compost. The enthusiasm and curiosity children bring to growing vegetables is infectious, and it's gratifying to see their parents come in excited that their kids are enjoying eating vegetables. And in this program it's lovely to see the joy and fulfillment that seniors get from working with the children."
For more information or to donate to support the EGP's programs visit www. ediblegardenproject.com.
Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist, garden designer, writer, consultant and organic advocate. email@example.com