Fresh Food Initiative encourages Island community cooperation

ASSIGINACK—The Manitoulin Community Fresh Food Initiative (MCFFI) hosted a Gardening for Success Workshop in Assiginack in partnership with the municipality and Noojmowin Teg Health Centre, featuring facilitator Ted Smith of the Gypsy Family Farm and Recorder Garden Gossip columnist.

“This workshop is part of a series we are doing across Manitoulin,” explained MCFFI Coordinator Kristin Bickell. “This is the last of four workshops with Ted Smith on Gardening for Success. The next series will be on community composting with the Northern Ontario Permaculture Research Institute (NOPRI) and we are also planning 16 workshops, with four different themes, on cooking what your grow and preserving in the late summer and early fall.”

The Healthy Kids Community Challenge (HKCC) has been assisting with the workshops, as has Cody Leeson, child nutrition program coordinator at Noojmowin Teg Health Centre, who will be taking the lead on the series on cooking and preserving in the fall.

Ms. Bickell welcomed everyone in attendance for the workshops to the Assiginack Community Garden at Seniors’ Park (at the corner of Queen and Arthur Streets).

She noted that Mr. Smith’s parents were market gardeners before him and that he has been gardening for 50 years. His farm, Gypsy Family Farm, is an environmentally responsible polyculture farm near Gore Bay.

Mr. Smith opened the floor to any questions people had about gardening.

The first question was about how to deal with cucumber beetles and earwigs in your vegetable garden.

“Cucumber beetles are my arch nemesis,” he joked. “Harsh chemicals will work, but I don’t like them. You can plant different size weeds around them, I have heard about people using reflective tinfoil and there are traps you can get. There are also organic sprays, but it is still poison.  A floating cover works well—you put it on when they are young and the plant will grow up and is strong enough to push it up and you take it off when it begins to bloom.”

Another question was about growing broccoli and cilantro. Mr. Smith explained that broccoli doesn’t do well in the heat, but that if it was planted in mid-August it might grow better. As for the cilantro, he said that it would also be reacting to weather stress and said, “the less love you give it the better.”

Mr. Smith also spoke about preventing earwigs. He recommends encouraging toads in your garden by leaving chunks of bark or other things they could use as homes and spoke about how they eat the earwigs.

“Only five percent of the bugs in your garden are bad, the rest are good and natural,” said Mr. Smith. “The hover fly, for instance, is very beneficial. Its babies look like slugs, but they eat aphids. Plants actually send off pheromones, which attract the hover fly and let them know how many aphids are on them and the hover fly lays enough eggs to eat the amount of aphids and help the plant. Sometimes we need to just stand back and marvel at the magic of nature.”

Mr. Smith also recommended that people evaluate what they want from their garden before starting it.

“You want to create a garden that you can manage, that’s not stressful and plant things that you will want to eat/use,” he said. “Put your garden where you can access it easily. The key to gardening is being in your garden. Making notes is also a great resource and ask questions and learn from others.”

A community member at the workshop asked why her plants were pale and lacking a rich green colour?

Mr. Smith said that it was because the plants were lacking nitrogen. He recommended planting clover, which naturally puts nitrogen in the soil, and composting. He noted that the two main elements to a healthy garden are carbon, brown elements like mulch, and nitrogen, greens.

He also spoke about how to properly water your garden. “Morning is the best time to water, the pores are open,” he explained. “A lot of people think after work, but after a long, hot day the plant’s pores are closed. Another good time is during a light rain.”

“Getting kids involved in gardening is also wonderful,” said Mr. Smith. “Get them in while they are young and give them their own section of the garden that is all theirs to plant and maintain. I did this with my kids.”

For preventing deer from getting into your garden and “sharing your garden with other four legged friends,” he said that dog hair works well in onion bags placed around your garden. He also suggested coyote urine.

Mr. Smith concluded the workshop by stating that he was always willing to answer gardening questions and that people can visit his Gypsy Family Farm Facebook page to post questions.

The MCFFI is working with 11 communities across Manitoulin, seven First Nations and four municipalities including Central Manitoulin, Assiginack, the Northeast Town and Gore Bay, to build community gardens, funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Noojmowin-Teg is the supporting organization of both the HKCC and MCFFI.

“Each garden is unique to the community and its needs,” explained Ms. Bickell. “Garden sheds are being built right now for each site and we will also be adding ‘teach and grow tables,’ large round picnic tables for workshops. Everything will be built from Manitoulin cedar so it will be local and esthetically pleasing. NOPRI has built the compost units for each of the communities. As well, fencing is being built specific to each site.”

Ms. Bickell explained that the technical services team of the United Chiefs of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM) designed and is building the sheds, fencing and tables.

Funding has been secured for four community all-season greenhouses being built by NOPRI, and made possible by the MCFFI and HKCC, the first of which will begin construction in August. Other partners include Whitefish River First Nation Health Centre, Manitoulin Family Resources, Sudbury and District Health Unit and the Child Poverty Task Force, whose HKCC funding was donated to the project.

The MCFFI is looking to secure funds to ensure all communities have access to all-season growing.

A contest is on right now, inviting the public to submit a name to the Name Our Greenhouse contest. The prize will be presented to the winner at a launch event in September at the Northeast Town community garden site. Greenhouse name entries can be submitted to The contest deadline is Friday, August 11 at 5 pm. For more information contact Danielle Bourgault or Kristin Bickell at 705-368-0229.