Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Growing in faith
Farmers' collective tries to connect with source of their food
Amid the rows of leafy greens, herbs, and potatoes, seeds of change are sprouting on a university campus.
As well as growing fresh vegetables for dozens of households, the large community garden at Canadian Mennonite University is providing a practical example of how small farmers around the world feed their families, says an international development instructor.
"In order for our students to understand what small-scale farming is like, one of the ways to do it is to get them to work with their hands and develop empathy," explains Kenton Lobe.
Lobe, 40, is one of seven gardeners who have tilled, planted and tended the nearly one-acre garden nestled at the western edge of the CMU campus in Tuxedo, just across the fence from a city public works yard.
One of a dozen community-shared farms in Manitoba, the CMU farmers' collective is attempting to do slightly more than provide fresh vegetables to their 25 customers, who paid $450 each for about 12 weeks of fresh produce.
They're also trying to connect the work of their hands with their belief that people need to be connected to the source of their food.
"God gave the book of the Bible and the book of the Earth and you have to read both of them to make sense (of life)," says collective member DeLayne Toews, 26.
"When you get down to the ground and listen to the cycle, you learn about the book of the Earth. This one tells you there's a timeline in each season, and there's an ebb and flow that teaches me who I'm called to be."
In their first year of operation, the seven farmers, most of them part-time, are growing dozens of vegetables, many of them heirloom varieties, using mostly human power and organic principles of pest control.
"We are trying to be selective about the type of technology we use," Lobe says of the group, which used a garden tractor to break the sod but is doing most of the other work by hand.
"We've said that the discipline and work is part of the joy."
Another part of the joy is harvesting the vegetables and sharing the bounty with their shareholders, many of them connected to the university community in some way.
With most of her gardening experience developed at rural organic farms where she worked all day and camped out overnight, collective member Corinne Klassen says going home after a long day in the garden is a novelty.
"In some ways, I feel less attached, but I really love the idea of urban farming and being so close to food and being just a bike ride away," says the 27-year-old Wolseley resident.
Across the Assiniboine River, five smaller gardens run by the Christian environmental organization A Rocha are feeding low-income people, as well as providing summer work for four interns.
"Our goal is to take care of God's earth by fostering biodiversity by gardening," explains Bethany Paetkau, community organizer for A Rocha.
Her organization tends 3,500 square feet of gardens at Portage Avenue Church near Polo Park, at private homes along Raglan Road, and at St. Margaret's Anglican Church in Wolseley.
Every Friday afternoon, A Rocha gardeners and community members take their newly harvested produce to the kitchen at St. Margaret's to cook and eat together.
Over at CMU, the large garden will also be used as a teaching tool for students when classes resume in fall, providing field experience in sustainable agriculture and subsistence farming, says Lobe.
And while they planned to make connections between urbanized Westerners and rural Africans, members of the collective are also facing issues common to Canadian farmers.
They're hoping for rain, planning for next year and wondering whether all their efforts will pay off at the end.
For Toews, who is on a leave from his regular job at Winnipeg Harvest, the money isn't the biggest motivation in the $12,000 project, which got official approval from the university in February and a $3,000 grant from the student body.
"There may be money at the end of the summer from this, but I'm not counting on it," he says.
Instead of cash flow, he says, part of the bounty of the garden is understanding the miracle of growing and how that ties into his Christian beliefs.
"Most of the work here is done by plants," says Toews.
"We can do the tending, the watering and the weeding, but most of the work is done by the seed, a perennial miracle of grace."
Christians and Sikhs plant together
THEY'VE been longtime neighbours in East Kildonan, but now the people of a Sikh gurdwara and a Christian church are poised to become friends as they break ground for a community garden.
Together, River East Mennonite Brethren Church and Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara, both located on McLeod Avenue, have adopted part of a city-owned park located along a public path, says River East minister Sara Jane Schmidt.
"We're both very enthusiastic about these two communities, who don't know each other, to collaborate," she says.
The two groups are celebrating their first joint project with a ground-breaking ceremony Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Northeast Pioneers Greenway, near the corner of McLeod Avenue and Raleigh Street.
The first stage of planting native grasses, flowers, and shrubs in the oval-shaped garden begins Aug. 9, with the second phase scheduled for next spring.
The church and gurdwara are splitting the $800 cost of buying plants and supplies and also sharing weeding and watering shifts.
Not only is this garden a great opportunity for the two faith groups to work together, but it could also provide a model for other types of interfaith co-operation, says a member of the gurdwara.
"We also hope that if other groups see us develop this community garden, they're inspired to do the same," says Gurpreet Brar, a co-leader with Schmidt of the project.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2011 J13