A couple of weeks ago, the Our Food team had the pleasure of running a Farm Tour with two of our partner organizations – gardeners from Immigration Settlement and Integration Services (ISIS) and from the Bayers Westwood Family Resource Centre (BWFRC). The site we chose was Ironwood Farm, a 200 acre organic farm in Summerville, Nova Scotia. At 8:30am I boarded the bus, with our faithful and patient driver Ulyss, and headed to the Glen Forest Garden in Clayton Park to pick up of friends from the ISIS. We chose to take the seniors from that community (primarily of Bhutanese and Congolese decent) because they have fewer opportunities to get out of the neighborhood and explore the province. We chose to take our gardeners from Bayers Westwood, because, well, they’d never forgive us if we didn’t.
Once our 30 or so ISIS pals boarded the bus, we headed to the HUGS Garden in Bayers Westwood, to pick up some of our gardens from that neighborhood. Last year on our Urban Agriculture Tour, the HUGS gardeners toured the Glen Forest garden and were roundly impressed. So this year, we thought it would be nice to return the favour and host ISIS gardeners in HUGS. ISIS participants meandered about the garden, with the HUGS hosts proudly showing off their crops. After a brief introduction to the tour, it was back on the bus and headed to the valley.
Like a class of kids on a school field trip, this group of seniors bounced happily along the highway, chatting excitedly to one another, in anticipation to the much awaited farm visit. Once we arrived, our friendly farmer Rupert, and his faithful dog Hazel, greeted us with equal warmth and kindness. Given the language barriers, and some of the limited mobility of our older guests, the tour took a very casual and fluid form. Rupert gave a general over-view of the farm and how it works, and then we set about visiting different parts of it. Following the lead of our farmer, our staff and seniors hopped from one site to the next with surprising tenacity and marked enthusiasm.
We visited the pig-pen, followed by the sheep barn, and then took a walk through one of Rupert’s several green houses. Most popular however was the blueberry bushes we stumbled upon. The blueberries were coming to the end of their production cycle, so Rupert gave us the green light to pick what we liked. Well, you’ve never seen a group of seniors move so quickly. Within moments, participants were scouring through the blueberry patch filling vessels they had mysteriously produced from thin air. As they picked, they sampled generously, looking delighted to be out of the city and eating fresh from the farm.
In typical fashion, the Our Food Project team put out a serious spread for lunch, including local greens, homemade corn bread, and a blueberry desert to compliment the packed lunches participants brought. Lunch was a particularly good time for gardeners from different projects to relax and casually chat with one another about their passion for growing, their favourite foods, and the highlights of their day so far.
And if a full morning at Ironwood Farm wasn’t enough, laden with full-bellies, we said farewell to the farmer and his dog and headed back to the valley for some apple picking before heading home. With similar enthusiasm our energetic seniors bounded through the trees cheerfully filling bags full of apples; many of them coming back for a second or third bag. Obviously our participants have a big appetite for local fruits and vegetables, and we’re happy to be connecting them to the source.
In large part the farm tour is a celebration. A celebration of our community members, of our farmers and the food they produce. However, we see it as much more than that. Many of our participants have backgrounds in agriculture in the countries they’ve emigrated from. Having the opportunity to connect with other gardeners across the city can be a powerful experience for them. It creates opportunities to share stories, to transmit knowledge, and to reconnect with their agricultural past here in Canada. The tour also presents an important opportunity to curb the social isolation that many of these seniors experience in Halifax due to limited English language skills, and for some, mobility. Each year when we run these tours, the Our Food staff feel privileged to be able to work with such a diverse and inspiring group of people. The tour is the highlight of the year for us, and we suspect it is for our participants too. Can’t wait for next year!
Author: Will Hill. Community Food Programmer, Ecology Action Centre.