Keeping it local with a global impact: The University of Alberta’s Green and Gold Garden.

Did you know the University of Alberta Farm (115th Street and 60th Ave) has fresh produce available for purchase Tuesday evenings and mid-day on Saturdays starting in late June?

This community garden has been running since 2009.  Since I just heard about the garden late last summer, I thought I would do a feature story about the University’s Green and Gold Garden to help get the word out.

As well as providing the community with access to fresh, local, spray-free vegetables, and handicrafts the Green and Gold garden uses all of its profits to support the support the Tubahumurize Project, “a non-profit organization in Rwanda that provides socially and economically marginalized women with counseling, life-skills coaching, health care education, and opportunities for sustainable income generating activities.”  In fact last year the garden raised almost $25, 000!

So supporting the Green and Gold Garden means that you can buy fresh local produce and handicrafts and make an impact in the lives of woman and their community on the other side of the world!

In order to find out more about the garden I asked Shirley Ross, one of the volunteer organizers, to tell me a little bit more about the garden.

The garden was started by Sarah Bowen and Ed Parada after they moved to Edmonton in 2008 from Winnipeg. Sarah and Ed had raised money for a project in Rwanda (Tubahumurize) for a couple of years before they moved to Edmonton. Ed loves to garden, and they had a large garden on land a couple of hours drive from Winnipeg. They made extra vegetables from their garden available to friends and co-workers in exchange for donations to Tubahumurize. Sarah is an Assoc. Professor with the School of Public Health.  She and Ed bought a house near the U of A farm in 2008, and they approached the farm manager about getting a piece of land to start a community garden that would raise money for Rwanda. The faculty of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences  and the School of Public Health became co-supporters of the garden.

The selling of handicrafts is a secondary activity. Tubahumurize supports vocational training for young people – a 10-month sewing skills course offered to a group of 20 students started in 2009. We sell some of the things made by the students and the graduates of the program. We also sell some beads made by some of the women who participate in programs offered by Tubahumurize.

The garden is cash only and  hours will be posted on the website and emailed to those who have signed up to be on the customer list once the garden opens this season.  Spring has had such a late start this year that produce may not be available until July.  The produce is not priced, but the public is asked to donate fair market prices for them: basically whatever you would pay for similar produce at a farmer’s market.  You do not have to commit to taking vegetables each week, but can come when you like and pick whatever vegetables you want.

The garden is run by volunteers and the volunteers also make donations for any produce that they are taking home.  If you are interested in volunteering at the garden you can email green&gold@sph.ualberta.ca.  This year volunteers started at May 14th, but you can start anytime.

As well as being run by volunteers the seeds and equipment that the garden needs are donated.  This year the garden received large donations of seed from Livingston Seed and Mr. Fothergill Seeds.  They also received a grant from the University Sustainability office to buy some much needed materials.

Since Shirley works in the same department as I do, I was aware that she took a trip a trip to Africa this past winter.  I knew that it had to do with the Green and Gold garden, but I wasn’t sure how her trip to Africa tied in with what was happening here in Edmonton.

Shirley was in Zimbabwe from January 14-26 participating in evaluating conservation farming projects of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the United Church of Canada.  She stopped in Rwanda on her way back January 26-29 to visit the women’s projects supported by the Green & Gold garden.

The following excerpt from the February 2011 Green and Gold Garden Newsletter sums up her trip nicely:

Shirley Ross, a founding volunteer at the Green & Gold garden, visited Tubahumurize in January, when work on an agricultural research project took her to Africa. During her visit, Jeanne Mwiriliza, Executive Director of Tubahumurize, presented Shirley with a wooden plaque thanking the Green and Gold Garden volunteers for their support. Jeanne designed the plaque and had a local artist make it. (We’ll be displaying this beautiful plaque at the garden this summer.)

Jeanne explained how support from the Green and Gold Garden has provided  a lifeline in supporting the women of Tubahumurize. Without our support, they may have had to close the Centre and the programs. At two of the Tubahumurize group counseling sessions Shirley heard stories of women who survived horrific experiences during the genocide of 1994. Many women continue to deal with poverty, health and family problems. The group counseling sessions provide a safe place for them to share their stories and to receive support from counselors and the other women. Shirley also met the sewing students at Tubahumurize and brought back various items that will be for sale at upcoming garden events.

Shirley has many great memories of visiting Tubahumerize during her trip to Rwanda this past winter and of working in the garden and talking with volunteers and customers. 

I hope you can join me and many other Edmontonians this summer by taking a trip to the the Green and Gold Community Garden and finding out what it is all about! 

For more information about the wide variety of crops available and how to get to the garden check out the garden’s website.

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