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It’s 6 a.m., Kanesatake is barely awake but Karyn Wahsontiiostha Murray and her team are already at work, watering and scrutinizing the fields to see if any animals have been through the Gardens of Hope, on Rang St. Sophie. While racing against the burning sun, they’ll be pulling weeds out, planting and harvesting until lunch hour, when the weather becomes too sweltering to continue.
Along with six community members, Murray, the 40-year old supervisor, is growing a wide range of vegetables to feed the community.
For its first edition, the Gardens of Hope’s main goal is to provide locally-grown food baskets for the community’s food bank. The new Kanesatake Economic and Development department’s initiative is currently feeding 130 families that were already using the Heath Centre’s food bank service provided to community members in need.
“The community depends on each other,” said Economic and Development coordinator Tracy Bonspiel. “We felt it necessary to feed the community and be part of the food bank.”
Bonspiel and Manon Jeannotte, who are both working for the department, explained that the project is part of Kanesatake’s plan to improve the community’s own sustainability. “We organized consulting sessions with the community,” said Jeannotte, “and eco-agriculture came at the top of members’ priorities.”
They initially analyzed surrounding community gardens, such as the one in the Argenteuil MRC, where a 2015 agriculture project now feeds more than 500 disadvantaged families. With the help of Murray, who studied at the Centre de formation Agricole de Mirabel (CFAM), and the financial help of the Health Centre, the Gardens of Hope grows organic cucumber, lettuce, sweet peas, cherry tomatoes among other fresh vegetables.
The garden is also a way to help unemployed community members. Kanesatake’s Employment and Training Service Center director Michelle Lamouche said they were able to hire people, aged between 15 to 38, with funds received from Service Canada.
While none of them had prior experience with horticultural production, Murray said the interest is growing as she’s teaching them the ways. “I’m showing them what I was taught. It’s a learning experience.”
Seeds of Life
Murray’s relationship with gardening has actually a deeper meaning than if it was a simple hobby.
The mother of eight was getting tired of seeing her children, now aged 24 to nine, all over Facebook and video games. At 32, not only did she lose the father of her kids, but she was struggling with drug addiction. Four years ago, she started gardening at her own house with her children as a way to make them go outside, without knowing how much of an impact it would have on her.
“Gardening saved my life,” said Murray, who proudly celebrated two years of sobriety on August 9. “I was an addict, addicted to chemical drugs and it was taking over my life.”
The turning point happened in 2018, while she was enrolled at CFAM for a 10-month course in horticultural production.
“They brought in a drug intervention team to speak to a bunch of us at school,” she said, “and talked about what it’s made of, where it comes from and I was like ‘wait, I’m trying to feed my kids organic food and here I am’… It was a wake-up call for me.”
Murray recalled that the first few months into sobriety were unsurprisingly horrible, but said that she was fully present and enjoying what she was learning at school. Gardening not only helped cleared her mind away from drugs, but gave her hope.
“That’s why it’s called Gardens of Hope,” she said. “In gardening, there’s the hope of life. You start with a seed and then sometimes the plant grows. Look at sunflowers, it’s a small seed compared to what it creates. It’s the life that shines through.”