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Cultivating a new garden for the elders

This summer at the Turtle Bay Elders’ Lodge, staff has been taking steps to expand the garden that is being built on the lot.

The garden project was first proposed by the Lodge’s activity department and was initially approved for funding by the board of the Kahnawake Shako’tiiatakehnhas Community Services (KSCS) in 2014. Facilities manager at the KSCS, Dwayne Kirby, took on the project in 2016. 

“It is a progressive project,” Kirby explained, “We have planted some fruit trees and shrubs around the property.”

The next phase of the project will be to build above-ground structures. 

This week, a team of workers installed a vertical wall garden.

Organizers of the activities division are hoping to expand the gardening program so that the residents can take part in maintaining the garden and eventually have the chance to use the produce. 

“Everyone will have ownership, but they will also have a chance to reap the benefits,’’ said Kirby. 

Sonny Dudek, a recreational therapist at Turtle Bay, began working on the project last fall. When asked to talk about the project, he immediately began by focusing on the therapeutic component to it, or, more specifically, horticulture therapy, a formal practice that uses plants, horticultural activities, and the garden landscape to promote well being for its participants.

“There are many studies that show that nature has an effect on humans,” said Dudek.

He further explained that working with the earth and being close to the natural world can provide a sense of mindfulness and a meditative space. 

Dudek added that another aspect that many may not realize is the importance in creating an environment that can make the residents feel “at home.” The garden will also accommodate people with a range of abilities, such as those who can help construct the raised gardens. 

“It hits home with them,” he said. “It empowers people because a lot of the elders here had gardens.” 

Some of the residents were even giving lessons on how they used to tend to their gardens. 

“Everyone had gardens in the community,” said Dudek. “Gardening was a culture and kind of a staple. A lot of people shared their produce. People are very proud of that.”

This way of life can then be linked to the community’s culture in that the organizers want to also incorporate the traditional way of agriculture. 

“We have a cycle of ceremonies,” said Kirby. “All of the ceremonies are connected to the land. We use the different harvesting periods as a calendar for when it’s time to give thanks for different crops. This teaches us to get back to our culture.”

The projects’ organizers are eager to expand. They hope to develop a system of composting as well and use the produce regularly for the resident’s meals. 

This seemingly minor endeavour will actually greatly benefit the residents in many respects. It will serve to beautify the residents’ home, to reconnect people with their culture, to provide social interaction, all while having a positive effect on the mind and body.

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