Rooted in ancient traditions of mimicking woodland ecosystems, food forests and gardens consist of diverse plantings of edible plants (fruit trees, nuts and berries, herbs), that provide year-round nutrition and medicines for Nature’s dependants--including people!
Food forests thrive in all directions – up, down, and out, incorporating layers that include an overstory, an understory, a root and mycelial (fungi) layer, and so on.
They have become more popular in recent years, and are found in public spaces such as parks and green spaces.
In 2020, our Kitchener-Waterloo chapter, Divest Waterloo (DW) partnered with Grand River Food Forestry (GRFF) for Faith Food Forests (FFF), a year-long initiative.
Laura Hamilton, Project Facilitator with DW says the project’s goal was to engage diverse faith and spiritual groups across the region where there is a strong Indigenous presence.
She explains how the idea started with Anishinaabe scholar, Dr. Andrew Judge, a professor at Laurier University. Andrew had a beautiful garden in Cambridge at rare Charitable Research Reserve, where he worked with students and community members to create an Indigenous foods garden.
“I was taken by the garden; I became a follower of Andrew,” Laura recalls. “It was a form of learning about sustainability by getting our hands dirty.”
Participating groups include the Jewish Temple Shalom, Westminster United Church,
Community of Christ Church, Eby Street Mennonite Church and Shri Ram Dham Hindu Temple.
Hands-on instruction and project coordination was provided by Nicola Thomas of GRFF as were the various plants this educator and master gardener shared.
For Nicola, who for a decade has been supporting community groups in creating gardens of all types, reconciliation can only be through the soil.
“Blood sweat and tears, that’s what soil is composed of,” she says. “And in the soil, our ancestors are all together–ancestors that include farmers of African descent, who cleared the land and built their farms directly within the area on which the FFF sites are located.”
The Queen's Bush Settlement stretches from Waterloo County to Lake Huron and starting about 1820, more than 1,500 free and formerly enslaved Black farmers tilled the land throughout the region. In the 1840s the government ordered the district surveyed and many of the farmers could not afford to purchase the land they had worked to clear and farm, such that by 1850 they were forced to migrate out of Queen's Bush. “Their contributions have yet to be acknowledged,” Nicola says, with a mind to correct this long standing oversight.
All five groups created their food forests on their own properties and in the fall of 2021, they joined with Crow Shield Lodge, a healing sweat lodge outside of town, for the largest fedge (food hedge) planting of all, at the edge of the adjoining forest.
Through Indigenous land-based healing and education, Crow Shield Lodge has as its mission "to walk alongside those who are in need of healing.” It offers connection and belonging to a community that is committed to responsible land stewardship.
“With settlers, land is all about ownership, not about stewardship, “ says founder Clarence Cachagee. “When you make that connection with the land, you make a deeper connection with yourself.”
He believes that while we are in the time of truths and that “there has to be more truths discussed before reconciliation,” Crow Shield’s vision is to support reconciliation between Indigenous and settler communities in the region. “We hope that people can become our allies. Allyship is action.”
For Laura, the FFF project is exactly that: “an act of allyship.” She describes the project as being powerful not only because it naturalizes landscape, creates habitat and attracts native pollinators with low-maintenance, drought-tolerant native species but also because it builds community.
“By supporting ongoing engagement with the land that sustains us, this work has the potential to change our relationships with each other and with our ecosystem,” Laura says. “Settler culture is about extraction. So much of this work has to do with people changing HOW they see land. Everything is about relationships. So it’s like in the movie, The Matrix. It’s up to us: do we take the red pill or the blue pill? Once you decide, there is no going back.”
The FFF project wrapped up in November 2021 but the participants have pledged to continue working together and stewarding their land with the common vision of food security and land conservation.
Participants speak about the FFF initiative
Our Mandir management and spiritual leadership were delighted to participate in the Faith Food Forest project. The idea of freely sharing Nature's bounty with the larger community fits very well with our cultural practice, here in Canada and back home in Bharat ( India)....
The garden, once completed, led to other ideas such as a strategically placed fountain and a new Gazebo which stood nearby. The Garden will become a focal point for many years to come.
-Vijay Solanki, a member of the board of Brahmarishi Mission of Canada, and the Ram Dham Hindu Temple, Kitchener.
Going forward we hope to expand the planting area, gradually replacing the lawn with a combination of food plants, pollinator plants, and other native species that are easy-care. Not yet started but on our to-do list for this winter is to ask a member who is an architect and some others who are artists to put together a design plan for us.
-Joan Thompson, Leadership Team and Climate Action Team at Community of Christ Church.
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