Community garden’s Come Grow and Play program narrowing in on Ground Youth prize

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WESTERN MANITOULIN—The Western Manitoulin Community Garden (WMCG) Come Grow and Play project sits in first place in the final voting thus far for a Future Ground Youth Prize from the David Suzuki Foundations sponsored by the Desjardins Group.  As has been reported previously, WMCG was selected as one of five finalists in the online voting contest. 

WMCG applied for a Future Ground Youth Prize from the David Suzuki Foundation to “create an outdoor educational play space set in our local community garden that invites children to deepen their connection to the land, themselves and their community,” said Linda Willson. She explained WMCG intends to make a safe area where kids “can have fun making mud pies in the mud kitchen, built of all natural materials that will include measuring cups, pots and pans, bowls, spoons and spatulas to spark imagination and creativity. They can sit in the willow sapling lodge with a weather proof, mini library at the entrance and read books about nature, garden themes and a beautiful collection of books by local Indigenous authors about traditional legends that will further capture their imagination.”

“They can experiment with seeds and planting in the mini-garden planting box, enjoy the feel  of healthy soil and exploring the tactile beauty of it. A worm or frog may present themselves for further delight. Or they can rest or play in the shaded stump sitting area with a stump table and several stumps to sit, balance and climb upon or eat their snack.”

Food security is a primary focus of WMCG. The garden was initiated in response to the local health unit survey revealing that over 60 percent of children on Manitoulin go to school hungry. In its fifth year of operation WMCG has become very successful, with over 60 members including kids from local schools, people with disabilities, members from various cultural backgrounds, LGBTQ, Indigenous communities as well as senor citizens. There are 20 individual rental plots, 13 raised beds that are ideal for elderly and people with disabilities. The garden also includes a large community food plot that provides over five bushels of fresh produce every week through the growing season for families and individuals who experience food insecurity.

“Although we have developed many community partnerships in an effort to create food security, we recognize that there is still a need to get families at risk involved in our community garden growing their own food. Many of these families have young children. So we have decided to attract these and other young families to our garden by creating a space for children to come grow and play in the community garden,” explained Sarah Earley, who is the lead on the design and development of the project.

“Deeply rooted in community, the WMCG is more than just a community garden,” said Ms. Earley. “It is a place where the community comes together.” The annual kite festival is a popular event (pre-pandemic times) that attracts over 300 people from across the Island, from infants to centenarians. WMCG also brought the Kids Can Grow program to local schools to create go green garden clubs that grow plants in their classrooms and then come to the community garden on a weekly routine to grow, tend and harvest the produce for their school snack programs. Throughout the growing season the garden also hosts a number of interactive and hands-on workshops open to the community to share information about growing food and gardening. Workshops have included composting, seed saving,  preserving food and mushroom logs, to name a few. The future vision for the garden includes a  memorial garden and accessible pathway, a food forest garden and eventually to build a stage where local musicians, storytellers and theatre groups will perform. 

“Creating our Come Grow and Play area is one of the ways  that we would like to grow our community garden into an outdoor community gathering space,” said Ms. Earley.

Come Grow and Play is an initiative to bring young families with children to the garden, grow community, and make gardening fun for children while at the same time emerging from this pandemic with families being able to access healthy food for themselves. You can show your support on the David Suzuki website Future Ground Youth Prize and vote for this initiative to help win. Voting takes place until June 15. The link to vote is at DavidSuzuki.org/future-ground-prize (and click on youth finalists). 

As of press deadline this week, the WMCG project had 566 votes, with the second place contestant standing at 500.