Monday, 8 July 2013

Growing Global Compassion in the Green and Gold Garden

By Paige






A warm breeze rolls across the expansive plains, and in the freshly tilled black dirt, small sprouts are fluttering in the wind. This open plot, two acres on the University of Alberta’s South Campus, is the Green and Gold Community Garden. It’s a place that’s “like being out in the country, but in the city,” Maureen Metz, the garden’s volunteer coordinator says.



The garden is a community space that operates in the late spring, summer and into the fall wherein volunteers plant seeds, tend to sprouts, and harvest vegetables during Edmonton’s warm season. The vegetables grown are sold to customers, and each and every penny harvested is donated directly to a Rwandan charity.



Behind the scenes, the University’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences provides the plot of land, irrigation, compost, much of their equipment and their storage space. The Department of Public Health provides their communication, including the making and design of posters, and handles the financial accounts. 

On the ground, the garden is fully a community organization —“it’s one big plot, everybody volunteers, puts in their work and the benefit is amazing,” Maureen explains. In a typical growing season, she estimates that the garden sees more than 150 volunteers come out to pull weeds and plant crops. Of that 150, about 25 make regular appearances on the land and about 7 serve as the core of the team. 


For Maureen, who got her start at the garden while finishing her Masters in Public Health, the three years she’s been involved have been a whirlwind experience.

“It’s a crazy learning experience, it’s basically like free gardening school,” she laughs. “We have some volunteers in their 70s who’ve been gardening for like forty of fifty years and then young people in horticultural programs, or doing the Masters in Gardening over at the Devonian Gardens.”

Photo supplied by Green and Gold Garden


The Rwandan charity the garden supports is Tubahumarize, a not-for-profit organization supporting socially and economically marginalized women in Kigali. Started in 2006 by Jeanne Mwiriliza, the association helps victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide move forward with their lives, providing classrooms, counseling services, a bank service offering micro credit loans and a year-long sewing program, which provides both vocational training for the Rwandan women and another source of income for the organization as the garden sells their garments and wares throughout the year.

Over the past four years, the Green and Gold Garden has raised more than $75,000 from vegetable sales alone that have been sent back to aid Tubahumarize. With a delicate balance being struck between Edmonton’s moody growing season and the generosity of strangers, it’s through a love of gardening, fresh produce and the spark of global change that brings nearly 200 shoppers from across the city to the garden on an average sales day.



“As far as people who come out, a good amount of it is people in the neighborhoods, and then we have people from Sherwood Park, from St Albert, and international students of every different ethnicity,” Maureen says. 

“We ask for people to pay what they might at the farmer’s market, but it doesn’t have to be as expensive either, since it’s by donation, but we have people who come and get veggies and leave a $100 bill because they know what we’re here for.”

Tubahumarize photo provided by Green and Gold Garden


For the volunteers though, Maureen and her friends who’ve been out there for years, it’s like a little family: a collective of people who watch the snow-covered dirt transform into an elaborate space full of greenery, and who make the world a better place through the simple act of gardening. 

The Green and Gold Garden opened on June 29 and more details about their operating hours days can be found at www.greengoldgarden.com/. If you’re interested in volunteering, the crew heads out on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and can be joined through their email mailing list also available on the website. Further information about Tubahumarize and Jeanne can be found at www.rwandanwomencan.org/.

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