Two photos by Lucia Araiza of Sustainable Expressions – Common Roots celebration
Our friends at Common Roots Urban Farm have been busy. The landscape of the farm, a productive food and green retreat in the heart of Halifax, keeps expanding with each growing season! You may recall our blog updates on the greenhouse constructed this summer, or perhaps you visited the farm to buy produce from their ever-evolving market garden. Maybe you participated in an outdoor cooking workshop in the new kitchen demo space, or took a stroll through the colourful blooms of the flower garden.
We also hope you had a chance to play at Common Roots… in the children’s garden, a natural playspace recently constructed through skills-building workshops. The children’s garden was created with collaborative means. It’s a story I was excited to be a part of, alongside many farm volunteers, employees and youth.
The garden is a community project, inspired and designed by children and their families that frequent the farm. The initiative began with a sponsorship from Clean NS (Celebrating 25 Years grant) to host design workshops, led by Rhea Dawn Landscaping. These took the form of community conversations with volunteers, parents and youth to understand what farming families would like to see in a garden dedicated to kids; how would they want to engage in a garden of play and curiosity? These conversations were then transformed into design data, resulting in a clay model (again, created by kids!) to guide the building process.
Key elements of design include a log sandbox, hiding and sitting corners, places for guardians and parents to perch, tunnels and teepees, and a nursery of native plants.
The next step was to build it; a phase of the project supported by Evergreen green grants. This funding also meant that Common Roots could hire four youth leaders (high school students) to guide the building process, ensuring that youth were involved at every step of the garden’s design and creation. As a group, we set out to host various skill-building workshops, inviting anyone in the community to join volunteers and youth interns to build.
These workshops included
2) Planting herbs, fruit trees, evergreens, berries, and more… those for medicine and native pollination;
3) Garden art and cool structures: weaving, teepee making, and other whimsical structures;
4) Woodworking & building, to create the sandbox and mud kitchen;
5) Creating signage, helping folks take self-guided tours through a self-sustaining garden.
One of the resulting structures wouldn’t have been possible without the 4Cs Foundation and Art Bikers, a mobile art unit (on bikes, of course) who work with kids and community to creatively transform public spaces. The Art Bikers visited the farm to lead a workshop on an EarthLoom construction—a structure I had never heard of at the time, but now get to weave with each time I visit the farm. An EarthLoom is a standing loom by which we can weave natural materials into, working with our environment of weeds, flowers, or yarn, and honouring the power of plants to produce fibre and pigment, which humans have woven for centuries.From our weaving, natural tapestries result, representing community through art.
Throughout these workshops, our dedicated garden crew of volunteers and youth interns greatly contributed to creating this garden from scratch. They cited memorable moments… learning planting techniques, ensuring plants are happy with thoughtful placement, the opportunity to use carpentry equipment and design a “mud kitchen”, a place for kids to bake mud pies and roll clay seed balls, and leadership skills to lead a group on a build, maintain an open mind and eagerness to learn, and the ability to creatively contribute to the artistic vision of the garden.
With the building of this garden, a serendipitous moment also occurred.
Common Roots is on land that once held the Queen Elizabeth High school.
Upon visiting the farm, Glenn Walton (noted filmmaker, composer AND QE II alumnus!), mentioned that where our children’s garden stands now is where his dear friend, the late Nancy Marshal, once hosted her theatre classroom. It seemed fitting that this children’s garden came to fruition in a space that children have played in for years. To honour Nancy, we had a garden logo designed with her legacy in mind. The image, displayed on the children’s garden main sign, represents play and curiosity, with the mask adding a theatrical element. The grand unveiling of the sign occurred at our end-of-season celebration, the Harvest Hootenanny, where Glenn and Nancy’s family participated in the garden opening.
The children’s garden allows a space to develop interest in the natural world, skills for growing food, and time for imagination, all of which are gifts with a lasting impression. The aim of the children’s garden is to encourage and inspire life-long skills and habits for healthy eating and environmental sustainability.
Thanks to everyone who helped to make it possible! Like a natural ecosystem, the garden will change, adapt and evolve, so please stop in and let us know what you think. We look forward to adding new elements of design in the future.
Written by Laura Mather, Community Food Coordinator – Youth Focus