Bow Valley College garden club donates harvest to food bank

Last year, Joanna Tzavaras, an instructor at the School of Foundational Learning, started a garden club on MS Teams with her Indigenous learners. It was meant to create community and togetherness amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I asked my learners, ‘Hey, do you want to start a garden club?’,” she says. “We individually grow gardens at our homes, and now we share our experiences virtually to build emotional well-being, to have fun, and communicate in the sense of togetherness and community.”

The club, named Okâwîmâwaskiy — Cree for Mother Earth — welcomes both learners and instructors and now has more than 30 active members. It has become a place where members not only share gardening tips and harvest updates but also connect on their shared love of nature.

Okâwîmâwaskiy is a safe space where members encourage each other and connect on a personal level beyond education and outside the classroom.

Now in its second year, the club cultivates a plot in the Cliff Bungalow/Mission Community Garden. Here they grow lettuce, beets, peppers, cabbage, and potatoes. This past week they harvested the garden. With COVID restrictions lifted, it was the first time the club members had met in person.

“I loved coming to garden, everyone coming together, meeting everybody before school starts," club member Connie Shepherd said. "Gardening is so relaxing. The weather is beautiful. I loved everything about it today."

“I think this is magical because we're in person and we're all together and we're all playing in dirt and digging up dirt. I think it's one of those moments that we're never going forget," Joanna said.

Last year, the club donated a portion of its bounty to the Calgary Food Bank. This year, they donated almost 15 kilograms of nourishing food from the garden to provide a positive impact on the lives of others.

Okâwîmâwaskiy will continue to grow into the next growing season.

“We are hoping to have a garden on campus next year," Joanna said. "We'll launch it in spring and then learners, whether they're Indigenous or international or whoever, can come and have some garden love, or some veggie goodness. Maybe people will come and grab some mint for their water. They can just visit, pick, and have a taste of that wholesomeness."

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