Locally backyard undertaking, newcomers develop greens and herbs from their homeland

Food from Home = Food for Home sees parishioners in Guelph harvest food from their home country

Every few days, Rehab Badri comes to a small community garden next to St. Joseph’s Health Center on Westmount Road to harvest home grown vegetables.

But this is not just any community garden, and she doesn’t harvest any vegetables. Badri, a woman of Sudanese origins, finds the garden to be a therapeutic space that helps her connect with her local community and also to remember her homeland.

As a child in Sudan, she remembers eating arugula that her mother picked. Now she’s growing the same vegetables in a small space in Guelph.

“My mother loved it so much and I miss her,” says Badri.

“When I come here, I try to prepare and eat everything my mother loves,” she says, holding a fresh basket of harvested vegetables as she remembers her mother with tears in her eyes.

And that’s the magic of an urban agriculture project called Food from Home = Food for Home, funded by Our Food Future. It helps newcomers to Canada learn gardening skills in their new country and also gives them the opportunity to connect with their country of origin through the foods grown here.

From bitter melon to indigo rose tomatoes. This year they created an enclosure with swamp-like conditions to grow okra.

Now in its second year, the garden has nearly 50 members who have access to 195 garden boxes that grow over 200 different herbs and vegetables from over 13 different countries around the world. Every Wednesday and Saturday, these parts of the program harvest what they need and leave the rest to others.

“When I come here, I meet a lot of different people from different countries, we exchange recipes and I hear about new plants,” says Badri, who came to Canada six years ago and never had the space to grow her own food or knowledge Harvest vegetables.

“When I came here and started planting, it helped my mental health,” she says as she harvests fresh food for her family.

The program was initiated by Karen Houle, Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Ethics at the University of Guelph, and her colleague in the program, Omelnisaa Hassan Elfaki.

The idea for the program started with a simple observation Houle made in 2017 while working on U of G’s farm, the Guelph Center for Urban Organic Farming.

She noticed that newcomers to the community came there on Thursdays to buy certain herbs and vegetables that were important ingredients in their favorite dishes from their country of origin.

“I was really touched and very moved to see how much it is so good for people to have just a little bit of the right ingredients,” says Houle.

She remembers a woman of Guyanese descent who looked for Malabar spinach, sometimes called Guyanese spinach.

“I remember being effusively happy and coming every Thursday and buying all of our spinach and also alerting many of her Nigerian and Central African friends to come over and get it,” says Houle.

Houle says the garden has around 30 types of vegetables and herbs that you wouldn’t find at any local farmers market. The community garden also grows certain types of pepper that are native to Mexico and some herbs that Houle says she has never heard of.

“My mentor Martha was really good at saying, ‘Everyone has to try this. You have to figure out how it tastes, you have to think about where it comes from, ”says Houle.

She took an interest in the food bank’s customers, who received much of the food from the farm, and learned that the majority of the customers were non-Caucasian and began to be concerned about food security.

“Food security is a particularly important challenge for people who are just immigrating from Syria or Sudan. They are trying to find a job, they work in a basement apartment. There are so many challenges, but food is one of them, ”says Houle.

She says she doesn’t want to produce food to deliver to tables, but rather to create a space that different sections of the population can access for themselves.

Houle recalls a time when a man from Haiti found a native Caribbean vegetable in the garden and says it was the taste of his childhood and now his children in Guelph could learn about his life before they came to Canada.

Houle says it’s important to understand that there is much that people can do to make newcomers to the community feel like a part of who they are.

“There’s a way to see that they didn’t leave everything behind,” says Houle.

“Almost everyone immediately takes photos and sends them back to Ghana or Venezuela, whoever is there. And I think with the picture they say ‘we’re fine, look, can you believe it? There are people in Canada. And if we do that it won’t cost us anything and we’ll make friends and our kids will come and I’ll teach them how to make the salad you made. ‘”

Houle says over 75 percent of the harvest is the same for all crops and includes carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes. The team asks participants what they want to plant and then procures the seedlings for them.

“But then each and every one of them has a little something special,” said Houle.

“There are these few things and even if it’s just one herb that’s like the last thing you put on a salad, honestly it’s the difference between a salad you get in the bread bar and a salad you get you have with a Bolita in Venezuela, ”says Houle.

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