New community garden in West Kildonan helps newcomer families connect after COVID-19

Raymond Ngarboui plucks a tall, green plant out of the soil on the side of the West Kildonan Memorial Community Centre.

“In Canada, people consider this as a weed,” he said picking off a few leaves to chew on. “But it’s very nutritious. I didn’t know that until our project participants from Nepal taught us that this is one of their main leafy vegetables.”

That cultural exchange, Ngarboui said, is one of the best parts of this new community garden in Winnipeg’s West Kildonan neighbourhood.

Ten different families from nine different nationalities started growing familiar produce at the beginning of July — a late start, but some families have already started harvesting.

“Before we started, we tried to brainstorm what kind of produce to start,” said Ngarboui, who is with the Community Education Development Association, a community-based organization in Winnipeg that works with students, families and educators to foster inclusion.

“We heard from people from Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, central Africa, India, Nigeria, who said, ‘We would like this and that.’ Finally, we came to common ground.”

The hot peppers, okra, amaranth and tomatoes in the garden “are things everybody agreed on,” Ngarboui said.

Nine-and-a-half-year-old Joana Ngarboui helps her dad harvest tomatoes from the community garden in West Kildonan. She also snuck a few bites of the ripe red fruits. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

This new garden is part of the Rainbow Community Garden project, which was started in 2008 near the University of Manitoba by a group of new immigrants working initially with Knox United Church.

Ngarboui said because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rising cost of food and a desire to connect with others, the number of families interested in a plot at that first community garden has tripled.

With more than 160 families waiting, the gardening project decided to expand to another area.

“Our project participants have been dealing with anxiety and depression due to social isolation, especially with some families remaining inside their apartments for so long,” said Ngarboui.

“That creates lots of social, mental or health issues. I think that’s why many families would like to come out to interact with others, enjoy fresh air.”

The project is partly supported by the Winnipeg Food Council, a City of Winnipeg committee run by residents. Though Ngarboui says that group has done a great job so far, there are more areas where community gardens could pop up.

“I think it requires the political willingness and the social willingness,” he said.

“You can see so many empty plots within the city of Winnipeg, which can bring mass food production, but no one is doing it — school yards, church yards.

“If each of those organizations were willing to share [their space], that would be wonderful.”

Raymond Ngarboui tends to one section of the Rainbow Garden beside the West Kildonan Memorial Community Centre. Ten newcomer families in the area started growing their own produce here this summer. (Sam Samson/CBC)

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