In Growing Possibilities: Stories from the Guelph-Wellington Urban Agriculture Challenge, 10C Shared Space’s Urban Sustainability Activator Vicky Huang shares the incredible initiatives led by local champions of urban agriculture and funded through Harvest Impact, a project of 10C and Our Food Future’s Guelph-Wellington Urban Agriculture Challenge

For our seventh installment, Vicky chats with Dayami Ramirez of Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington, to learn about their Youth Leadership Program.

Exploring the Putting Down Roots: Newcomer Youth Community Garden, with Dayami Ramirez
Read the story of ISGW's Newcomer Youth Community Garden below!

On a cozy morning in early November, I heard my phone ring. I smiled because I knew exactly who it was: Dayami Ramirez, the Program Manager at Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington. She and I set up this call a few weeks prior, and I picked up with much excitement. Dayami’s voice lit up the room and we had an amazing conversation about the Youth Leadership Program that ISGW led earlier that year, with the support from funding through the GWUAC. I can’t wait to share their story with you!

The story of the “Putting Down Roots: Youth Newcomer Community Garden”:

Each year, Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington (ISGW) organizes and delivers a program to engage newcomer youth in community services and to build their leadership capacity. Each year’s program looks slightly different, but to ISGW, it is known as the Youth Leadership Program. This program has been mainly sponsored through IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada), and each year, helps newcomer youth connect with each other and develop their leadership skills.

Different themes are featured each year. This year, their program was focused on urban agriculture. Alongside providing hands-on planting and growing experiences, different community groups and individuals would share their knowledge and skills, and the youth would develop them and bond through caring for a community garden. 

"The focus of the 2021 YLP was organized around themes of urban agriculture, food security and food justice, and culminated in the creation of Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington’s (ISGW) first community garden." - Dayami Ramirez, Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington Program Manager

However, the pandemic had added various challenges to the Youth Leadership Program, many of which the IRCC funding would have difficulty covering. When ISGW received the $2000 GWUAC “Shovel and Fork” award, it was a perfect supplement to their existing funds, and allowed them to deliver their program successfully.

The Youth Leadership Program & GWUAC

“Without the support from GWUAC, running the program would have been very challenging with just the IRCC funding to cover all the expenses. We were able to get more guest speakers and transportation of the youth to the remote location. It allowed us to make the IRCC funding available to help the other programs at the agency to help other newcomers.” - Dayami Ramirez

While some IRCC was still put towards logistics such as transportation and interpretation support for the program, the GWUAC funding was definitely needed. It covered expenses related to youth engagement, supplies (i.e. seeds!), resources, and honorariums for the workshop presenters. Emma Stewart-Small (ISGW’s Community Connections Outreach Worker) coordinated the program, and designed six beautiful workshops for the youth group to cover the different aspects of urban agriculture.

The full program spanned March to September 2021, with workshops running from March through May, after which these online sessions were replaced by in-person field work from June to September. This was a perfect setup, because the workshops were designed to prepare the participants with the knowledge, skills, and experience to make the garden flourish. The group consisted of 11 youth, who were also joined by participants from Hope House.

Below are the workshops that were presented to the youth:

1. Growing a Garden with Purpose, presented by Ignatius Farm

This workshop was an empowering kick-off for the Youth Leadership Project’s series, and was presented by Christine Clarke and Michaela Cruz from Ignatius Farm. Emma from ISGW also worked with the youth to plan their garden group work and personalize each participant’s plants and locations.

2. Food Security and Food Justice. presented by The SEED

This session featured the Guelph Seed Library open house alongside a discussion about food security and food justice with Madeline Barber, the Community Resources Coordinator at The SEED. The youth learned these important concepts related to urban agriculture, to best prepare them for a success season at the community garden. 

3 & 4. Winter Sowing and Starting Seedlings, presented by The SEED

These two workshops by The SEED helped the youth group start growing their seedlings at home. Originally, the youth would have sown the seedlings together at the community garden, but due to the pandemic restrictions, ISGW had to adapt their plan for the participants to grow them separately from home. 

5. Community gardens and harvesting, presented by The Julien Project

This valuable workshop led by Anna Kroetsh, horticultural therapist and project manager at The Julien Project, gave the participants the final preparations for their field work. The Julien Project is a non-profit organization that “provides social and therapeutic gardening opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds and abilities enabling personal growth, community membership, and environmental well-being.” One of the program’s main partners, they contributed their experience and expertise in community building and healing through gardening.

6. Designing a Survey, presented by Karen Houle and Omelnisaa Giddam from the University of Guelph

This final workshop session focused on survey creation with two local urban agriculture champions. The youth learned various tools for how to design and conduct an effective survey for the community, a valuable skill.

The youth planting their seedlings together.
The youth planting their seedlings together.

Through these six workshops, the youth group discussed, engaged, connected, and bonded over urban agriculture, all while growing their own seedlings at home. When the time came, I'm positive that they were all excited to plant their seedlings at Northfield Farm, The Julien Project’s community garden site. From June until September, the youth went to the community garden every Thursday morning, and spent 3 hours there tending to the plants, watering, weeding, harvesting, and being in each other’s company. On September 15th, the Youth Leadership Project brought the youth together for a beautiful harvest at the farm, where they celebrated the bounty and success of their work.

“It was really a nice day for the youth. They could see the results from all the months of work they had done. It was a very joyful day.” - Dayami Ramirez

The impact of the 2021 Youth Leadership Project’s Newcomer Youth Community Garden

Throughout the seven months of the Youth Leadership Program, the 11 youth gained tangible, applicable skills for urban agriculture and built friendships and connections within their group and among community-level organizations. They planted their own seedlings, tended to their growth, and planted and cared for them together as a group before harvesting the fruits of their labour.

“The youth decided that they wanted to choose a few recently arrived families that were going through hardships financially. Sixteen families in the end enjoyed the benefits of what was harvested from these two small gardens that the youth worked on in the project.” - Dayami Ramirez

Together, the group of youth had grown and harvested 325 pounds of food! Along with some contribution from the Hope House garden, the food was shared with the families of the youth group, and the youth made share baskets to the community as well as had a market share. The Julien Project staff helped to pack and deliver the foods on September 16th to the families.

Below is a breakdown of the final harvest by the 2021 Newcomer Youth Community Garden:
 

Product

Pounds (lbs) harvested

Table tomatoes

15 lbs

Cherry Tomatoes

8 lbs

Potatoes

142 lbs

Onions

17 lbs

Green Onions

37 lbs

Zuchinni

28 lbs

Peppers

20 lbs

Eggplant

16 lbs

Mixed Greens

14 lbs

Herbs

N/A

Winter Squash

10 lbs

Kale

18 lbs

Beets

N/A

TOTAL

325 lbs

 

With the harvest, 16 families (estimated 50 people) were able to get a basket of locally-grown, fresh food that was grown by fellow newcomers. Out of the sixteen families, five of them were families of the youth participants, which makes the basket and food that much more special.

The market share after the harvest.
The vegetables from the harvest, ready to be shared.

Moreover, this project did not just impact the youth participants, but all those who worked on the project. 

“If you’re new to Canada and you come from different avenues of life, it was an opportunity in such a hard time like the COVID times, to really connect safely in an outdoor space and get to see your peers and listen to the other stories of newcomer youth.” - Dayami Raminez

This project is so much more than just the number of pounds of food that were harvested, but really what it meant to everyone involved. That’s a wider impact that can’t be captured in numbers.

“Feedback from the participants were all very high. They would love to continue participating in a project like this.” - Dayami Raminez

From their project evaluation with the participants, it was communicated that through the program, the youth connected to the community, learned about food security and community garden harvesting. 

“Putting Down Roots” in the Community

The youth gathered around a speaker during a workshop to learn about urban agriculure.
The youth gathered around a speaker during a workshop to learn about urban agriculture.

The 2021 Youth Leadership Program was very adeptly named “Putting Down Roots: Newcomer Youth Community Garden” because it quite literally, put down roots in the community. With the program’s partnerships with The Julien Project, Ignatius Farm, Hope House, The SEED, Guelph Seed Library, the University of Guelph and their notable urban agriculture champions in the community such as Anna Kroetsh, Michaela Cruz, Madeline Barber, Karen Houle, Omelnisaa Giddam and Christine Clarke, each of these connections act are “roots” that the project has planted. These roots have so much 

”We’re really looking forward to continuing with follow-up partnerships with The Julien Project. It was an amazing collaboration.” - Dayami Ramirez

The Pandemic’s Effects on the 2021 Youth Leadership Program

“COVID-19 was a huge challenge. If it wasn’t because of that, we could have delivered the sessions in person at ISGW or on-site at the different organizations, for more direct engagement with the resources and community services.” - Dayami Ramirez

Originally planned for in-person experiential learning workshops and field work, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically added limitations to this vision. Things had to be done remotely and at home, changing many initial plans.

“We had to be creative. COVID made things very complicated.” - Dayami Ramirez

However, creativity, flexibility and adaptability are not only key to community gardening, but to all of community work. Emma switched the workshops to run online via Zoom, and instead of starting the seeds in one location together, each participant started their own seeds at their own homes. Of course, it wasn’t ideal because learning remotely is never as engaging and experiential as on-site learning, but knowing the speakers’ experiences and backgrounds, I have no doubt that their workshops were nonetheless powerful. Additionally, while at-home growing provided its own challenges for some, the youth worked together to find solutions to successfully grow their seeds, and planted their seedlings at Northfield Farm.

“This empowered them to learn too, that community gardens can still happen at home, and they can be creative and adjust and still make it work in their small balconies.” - Dayami Ramirez

Next Steps for the Youth Leadership Program and ISGW’s Newcomer Youth Community Garden

Seeing as the Youth Leadership Program at ISGW is ongoing yearly, they are now planning for their next year’s program. Regardless of the theme, ISGW is looking to add their community garden to their regular programming. They are currently coordinating with The Julien Project to assess how feasible that would be, and how it could look like, because being able to provide hands-on experience with urban agriculture while raising more awareness on food security and food justice is extremely valuable to ISGW. With the success of their program this year, they are in high hopes to deliver it again.

The youth at Northfield Farm, one of The Julien Project sites.
The youth working together at Northfield Farm, one of The Julien Project sites.

My takeaways

Through my conversations with Dayami, the value this program had for the participants is clear. The group itself was made up of around a dozen participants, but the ripple effect, and wider impact that their experience has on their families, peers, and community really moves me. I am so inspired by how in-depth and hands-on this program was designed, and how each participant was involved with rich and applicable experiential learning. The creativity with delivering the program during the pandemic, the way they were able to successfully engage a dozen youth, and the fluidity of how the project came together prove that with a little financial support and passionate individuals, absolutely impactful initiatives can be realized.

Thank you, Dayami, for the insightful conversation. I loved learning about ISGW’s Newcomer Youth Community Garden, and I can’t wait to see what it flourishes into!

Stay tuned for the next blog post in this series of Guelph’s newly-innovated urban agriculture projects! (Spoiler: I visit Heather and Matt at Ignatius Farm next, to learn about the transformations that their $20,000 GWUAC award activated!)

A summary of the GWUAC Putting Down Roots project by Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington.
A summary of the GWUAC Putting Down Roots project by Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington.

-----

This is the seventh installment within the "Growing Possibilities: Stories from the Guelph-Wellington Urban Agriculture Challenge" series. All installments of this series can be found here. The sixth installment was on the Freedom Dreams Co-operative Education Program by Christine Clarke.