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Urban Gardening in Regent Park

“Gardening can be a family peacemaker,” smiles Hosne Ara, as she begins to explain the benefits of urban gardening in Regent Park.

“When the mother of a family I know started growing food for her family, it gave her something to do and it brought in extra food. Before that she was looking for a way to contribute more meaningfully to her home. This was causing tension in the family, and then she started gardening.”

But there are other benefits to growing vegetables in the community.

“It is economical and good for the environment. I’ve gotten to know lots of people – an opportunity to make friends from other cultures. I am able to teach others how to grow organically and show them where food comes from,” Hosne explains.

Before Hosne started growing vegetables, her only growing experience was with flowers in her native Bangladesh. “But they are for beauty, not eating,” she laughs.

Hosne arrived in Montreal from Bangladesh in 1994. In 1997 she settled in Regent Park in Toronto with her young son. Even though she has an MA in Psychology from the University of Dhaka, quality work was hard to come by and being a single mother made things even harder. Growing her own vegetables seemed like part of the solution.

But it took almost 8 years for a garden plot in the area to become available. “And, I only had to wait 1 year, 8 months for housing!” Hosne remarks. “I am thankful to Olivia Rojas, the Community Development Worker from Regent Park Community Health Center, who allocated me my garden plot.”

Trying to find more urban garden space is one of the projects of James Kuhns, Food Access Coordinator for the Christian Resource Centre. “With the redevelopment of Regent Park, we’re losing some of our urban garden plots. Growing your own food is so important to the community here. It gives them a chance to supplement their budget, but more importantly it allows them to grow organic, delicious food, often culturally specific to where they came from. In fact this year, one gardener actually grew rice right here in Regent Park.”

Hosne has led workshops on container gardening. “This is an innovative response to the loss of urban agricultural space,” remarks Kuhns. “We need to create opportunities for people to grow vegetables on their balconies and rooftops, in addition to working with the City to preserve on-the-ground areas where people can grow food.”

“My family back home can’t believe what I can grow on my 9 by 9 foot plot,” Hosne proudly shares. “They thought I just grew one or two things, not more than a dozen, like: water spinach, red spinach, jute, Swiss chard, cucumber, winter melon, scotch bonnet pepper, dark black hot pepper, Cayenne pepper, Egyptian onion, potato, sweet potato, garlic, beets, cilantro, and mint.”

Even though gardening is under threat in Regent Park, Hosne thinks she should be fine for another 10 years, since she lives in the last area slated for redevelopment. Others in the community will not be so lucky.

It’s too bad, because Hosne was able to produce more than enough vegetables for her and her son for 6 months. Her surplus allowed her to share with others. “This year I had so much water spinach that I gave much of it away. I have received help from many local community agencies like Yonge Street Mission and the Christian Resource Center. I am grateful to them. I have received from my community so now is a time for me to give back.”

“I love gardening for many reasons,” Hosne explains. “I am creating something. It gives me joy to be able to grow for myself and others. And the food I grow is so delicious and healthy.”

And she is good at it. This year she won “Best Innovative Garden” prize in a locally organized garden contest.

By Bruce Voogd

 

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