Community grant helps community gardens grow during COVID-19

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By: Fernanda Fraga, Communications volunteer, Canadian Red Cross
Prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water them regularly, keep the weeds out: a standard step-by-step approach to growing a garden. But make no mistake, the results can go far beyond providing vegetables and fruits.

Zucchini growing in a leafy garden.“It’s more than growing a garden, it’s about growing people,” stresses Mary Drummond, president of Durham Integrated Growers for a Sustainable Community (DIG).

DIG is a collaborative that has existed in the Durham region of Ontario since 2008. It supports local community food production and food security through shared resources, mentoring, and technical and developmental assistance. To date, the 30 community gardens connected to DIG have touched more than 5,000 people from varying backgrounds. There are newcomers, the financially vulnerable, those living with mental health issues, people who want to socialize, and even those who simply do not have space for a garden at home.

“Sometimes, when you have a problem, you come to the garden and others can help with a different perspective, you can focus on your tasks and let things go for a moment,” says Drummond. “Or, you can find out that a colleague has a bigger issue and you end up helping him instead.”

DIG is one of hundreds of non-profit organizations across the country that has received funding from the Canadian Red Cross through the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund.
This grant has allowed DIG to not only keep its gardens growing during COVID-19, but to expand operations, providing an opportunity for those facing food insecurity to access sustainable, local food during the pandemic.

“These are valuable community food sources‎ for not only pre-pandemic vulnerable populations but also to those made vulnerable by the pandemic,” explains Drummond.

Most of the community gardens supported by DIG, such as U-Help Foundations, donate their produce to local food banks. The U-Help garden is grown by students in the summer and provides fresh fruits and vegetables to seniors in need.

Sabrina West, a volunteer, sitting in the garden with vegetables surrounding her.“The elderly are at a time of their lives that they could potentially feel lonely and we just let them know, though food, that we are still there, we care for them, and we are willing to take care of them,” says Vessna Romero, who coordinates the U-Help initiative. “I am a strong believer in the power of the earth, water, and seed, and how easy combining those things produces the food that we eat.”

Sabrina West, pictured right, is a 22-year-old student who became interested in agriculture at school and is spending her summer working as a gardener at U-Help.

“I was learning about different ways to sustain a community and how important a community garden can be for some of them,” she explains. “Fresh food is expensive. So many people eat just processed food; it’s a great thing that we can contribute to change this a little.”

This program was supported thanks to the generous support of the Government of Canada's Emergency Community Support Fund.

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