Living in the city, living off the land
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/08/2020 (897 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Audrey Logan hasn’t been to a grocery store in more than a decade.
The Métis, Nehiyaw Elder refers to herself as an urban bush woman who forages, grows and dehydrates all the food she needs from the neighbourhood around her West Broadway apartment. They are techniques she learned as a ’60s Scoop survivor and traditional practices she later reclaimed from relatives who lived off the land.
“I can forage throughout the city here I can find grapes and cherries and apples and plums and all kind of things,” Logan says. “You just knock on a person’s door.”
Born in Edmonton, she was taken away from her birth family at the age of three during the ’60s Scoop — an era that started in Canada in the 1950s and saw child welfare agencies regularly removing Indigenous children from their homes for placement in foster care and adoption to white families. Logan was placed in a home that used children as farm labourers.
“By fostering kids they made extra money as well as had farm help,” she says. “They were not very kind people.”
She paid close attention to the farming practices used on the farm and came to the conclusion that most western methods, like monoculture planting, did more harm than good. At 13, she ran away from the home and used what she learned about plants to survive while evading child and family service agents.
“I had to move around a lot because if CFS finds you they lock you up and next thing you know you’ve got a police record, whether you did anything wrong or not,” she says. “Everywhere I moved, I did people’s backyards and gardens and thus fed myself and eventually my daughter.
In her 20s, Logan reconnected with her family in northern Alberta and spent time learning from her kookum and auntie, both of whom were skilled bush women.
However, her passion for traditional Indigenous agriculture began when she found out cultivated squash seeds had been discovered in the stomach of a mammoth. In 2015, students at Canadian Mennonite University made headlines when they successfully grew a squash from an 800-year-old seed found during an archaeological dig in what is now known as Wisconsin.
“It was a turning point finding out that none of this actually came from Europeans,” she says. “We were the farmers here, we managed the land… all the tomatoes people grow, potatoes, your melons, beans, your squash — all of that’s from Indigenous people thousands of years ago.”
For the last six years, Logan has been promoting the history of Indigenous agriculture and teaching traditional methods at a community garden plot on the corner of Broadway and Good Street.
On a Tuesday in early July, the garden is a lush mess of berries, vegetables and medicinal plants growing in partnership with one another. Logan plants according to the lunar cycle and uses the seven sisters method — a traditional form of companion cropping — to plan the garden. Pulled weeds are left on the ground to build up the soil, a necessity since the garden is currently growing on only a foot of soil covering the foundation of a demolished house. Anyone is welcome to harvest food from the garden.
Despite health issues — she recently found out she needs a double lung transplant — Logan spends three evenings a week teaching and toiling in the garden.
“It’s total therapy,” she says. “Some people meditate and like the sound of the singing bowl, me, I like the crunch and the munch of the leaves.”
Evan McIntosh has been joining Logan in the garden every week for almost a year. The 27-year-old grew up in a farming community in rural Manitoba, but didn’t know much about growing food. His time watering, weeding and listening to Logan’s teachings have turned him into a “farmer for life” and helped him connect to his Cree and Anishinaabe heritage.
“I like to eat food and garden food is the best, especially when you get to see it grow and actually have a hand in doing it, it’s really empowering,” McIntosh says, while picking a spinach-like plant called lamb’s quarter to use in a salad for dinner.
Logan has faced criticism at other community gardens for her methods and she’s been chastised by city officials for growing medicinal plants considered illegal. Lamb’s quarter, for example, is on the noxious weed list in Manitoba because it can be poisonous to livestock.
“Many of our plants have been put on the noxious weed list as well as the invasive species list, not necessarily because they’re invasive or foreign,” she says. “The Europeans when they came over didn’t understand a lot about the plants.”
The garden plot is about to receive a significant makeover.
The West Broadway Community Organization (WBCO) has started a crowdfunding campaign to make the garden a permanent fixture on the lawn of 545 Broadway, the site of the former Klinic building. The WBCO purchased the land from Klinic and plans to build affordable housing on the lot, but first needs to move the garden to the east side of the yard.
“We would have never wanted to displace the garden,” says director Greg Macpherson. “The amount of energy and knowledge that’s been put into that space already is something that we wouldn’t want to disrupt.”
It’s a big undertaking and Logan has been involved in every step of the design and planning.
“I wanted something flowy that people could walk through,” she says. “A little place to meet.”
The new space will include a meeting area and paved pathways to allow for wheelchair access. The Gofundme campaign aims to raise $50,000 on top of funding the WBCO has already secured.
“We feel extraordinarily lucky to have Audrey working on that land,” Macpherson says. “I think having a community meeting space and permaculture garden on the front lawn of one of the most marquee buildings in the inner city is just a testament to our community’s commitment to biodiversity and the environment and celebration of Indigenous culture.”
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.