Lac La Ronge Indian Band members are traveling across the north teaching people how to garden
The Star-Phoenix, April 27, 2016
Every time Phillip McLeod went boating along the Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan, he saw huge cleared areas along the forested riverbank.
Curious about who had once tamed the land, the Lac La Ronge Indian Band member told the elders what he’d seen.
“They said ‘That used to be our garden,’ ” McLeod recalls. They told him stories of using dynamite to blast away rocks and trees and of nurturing a wide range of crops including strawberries, melons, potatoes and carrots.
The elders McLeod spoke with hadn’t gardened for more than 50 years.
“It’s kind of like a dying culture,” he said. “They’re so old now that they can’t get on a boat and go down there and continue planting.”
McLeod hopes to change that trend; he’s part of a group of community cultural workers from Lac La Ronge Indian Band that’s travelling to northern communities teaching residents how to garden. Last week, they delivered workshops to 73 people in Grandmother’s Bay, Sucker River and La Ronge. This week they’ll be in Little Red River and Hall Lake.
The focus isn’t on gardening huge plots, as was done in the past, but on growing things in smaller community gardens and raised beds outside people’s homes, which makes it easier for elders to access the gardens.
Community cultural workers bring sprouted plants, and people who attend the workshops leave with fledgling potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, garlic and other fruits and vegetables that can survive the short northern growing season. People attending the workshops are encouraged to get their hands dirty and are taught how to replant seedlings, compost and mix appropriate soil.
“It’s really neat to see the smiles on their faces because it seems like they become children again when they’ve got their hands in there and they’re laughing and just enjoying it,” said Alex Halkett, who also leads the workshops.
The workshops help reconnect people to a way of life that was once commonplace in northern Saskatchewan, promote healthy eating and give families the skills to save on increasingly high grocery bills by growing their own fresh produce.
“We have a huge problem with diabetes in the north and all sorts of different illnesses, and a lot of it is due to what we eat, what we consume, and we’re trying to instil in the community that we should get back to feeding our children vegetables and fruit instead of the quick little cheezies,” Halkett said.
Workshops are supposed to wrap up this week, but the demand for them has been incredible across the north and the community cultural workers say they hope to host a few more before mid-May, when the growing season is well underway.