Course:KIN 500C Spring 2019

From UBC Wiki

Authors: Waneek Miller, Emily Ervine, Brandon Humphrey, Katie Lienhard

This Wiki page resource will present a formal introduction to the problem followed by a guide with evidence supporting the cultivation of a community gardening initiative.


There will be improvements in Indigenous wholistic wellness and healing through a community gardening initiative.


Chronic diseases are common among Indigenous peoples (inclusive of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples). In particular, cardiometabolic diseases appear to affect Indigenous peoples at rates that are well above the general population. Type 2 diabetes is the most prevalent one, with rates three times higher than non-aboriginal population.37 Obesity among youth living on reserve exceeds the average Canadian youth at 12.8% and 8.2%, respectively.37 Improved educational strategies can reduce the chronic health burden on children and families.28,37 However, First Nation communities struggle with limited health and nutritional resources.32,42 Financial burden is significant in rural areas, with groceries costs on reserve exceeding those observed in urban communities.42 Greater healthy lifestyle resources are needed among First Nations communities. Financial restrictions limit the ability for communities to improve their health status.17,23 Introducing community or school gardening strategies may alleviate the financial and health burden of food availability in rural areas. Traditional health and nutritional strategies that are feasible and appropriate for First Nations youth will be explored.

Informative Video: Native American Tribe Has Highest Rate of Adult Onset Diabetes Worldwide


Improvements in nutritional availability, choices, and education should be a top priority for all Canadian communities. Nutritional recommendations for children involve a healthy selection of greater than five servings of fruits and vegetables for daily needs.37 Children who do not meet these recommendations are more likely to be overweight or obese.17,37 Educational and financial burden should be reduced to improve healthy eating behaviours. It is most important to start this at the grassroots level and in schools to provide children with healthy food options.28

School-based garden programs can allow communities to work together to provide better health choices.17,28 Children can learn how to grow and collect vegetables and fruits needed to meet the five daily servings.37 Increasing exposure to fruit and vegetables provides increases healthier food preference in children.17,23,28,37 Further, First Nations elders can assist the education process by teaching children how to grow and care for plants.37 Harvesting plants can be done as a community learning event that teaches nutrition and provides meals for children.37 Although school-based gardening strategies are useful in influencing nutritional preference for non-aboriginal Canadians, little research has been done examining its long-term health impact.


Affordable foods are scarce in First Nations reserves.23 Food cost are extremely high in First Nation communities, averaging 50% of income on food.32 Food availability is a major restriction in providing healthy food consumption.32,33,37 Unfortunately, this is a major restriction for children obtaining healthy foods required for growth. Food preference is restricted to what a family can afford.23 School-based and grassroots nutritional programmes can reduce the financial and health burden on families while providing children with servings of vegetables and fruits.28,32 However, it is unclear if these interventions will continue to influence the food preference of children at home. Fast food exposure increased dramatically since the 1990s. Due to financial constraints many residents are unable to purchase healthy produce.42 A barrier in youth food preference is food affordability, availability, and accessibility.17 Researchers found that children provided with education on how to grow and prepare their foods would do so.28 Another major barrier cited involves affordable foods. Gardening, preparation, and eating healthy foods improved food preferences but the continuity of this effect is limited by the cost of produce that caregivers can afford.37 Without additional funding and resources to improve access and affordability of produce, these effects may not change eating habits and chronic health diseases that significantly impact First Nations communities.17

Geographical Constraints

Geographical isolation is a significant barrier for food security in First Nations communities. Food and water security are interconnected in many ways, primarily through Government funding and resources.17,23,42 Westernization of First Nations diets increased dependence on store-bought foods.17 In communities such as Nunavik, store bought foods accounted for 80% of produce in the household.17 Greater reliance on imported foods has reduced traditional gardening practices and garden resources. There were greater increases in cheap, low-quality food options. High-sugar and high-fat foods such as soft drinks and chips accounted for 36% of the average energy intake in Nunavik.17 Increases in cardiovascular diseases were observed in this community.17

There is great debate on how communities can improve healthy lifestyles, particularly through traditional methods. Returning to traditional growing methods is understandably more time consuming compared to westernized food sources but can restore health in rural First Nations communities.17 Access to gardening resources such as tools and seeds can assist communities in maintaining traditions.17 Government funding towards community grassroots events can provide better education opportunities to youth and allow learning through elder interaction. Funding for farms and gardens to grow affordable produce will assist the community adherence to healthy food choices.


Gardening affords communities the opportunity to be self-sufficient and provide an abundance of healthy food. A variety of nutritious vegetables and fruits can be harvested to provide safe sources for food.17 These may include squash, peppers, tomatoes, among many others.37 Traditional herbs and plants can be grown to provide the community with affordable nutritional or ceremonial activities. Improving the nutritional environment for First Nations not only allows for affordable and safe access to foods, but also improves community traditions and sociability.17,23 It appears that the benefits of community gardening and educational initiatives far outweigh the risks. Children show beneficial changes in food preference when given healthy alternatives.28,37 Elders are able to support their community and maintain nutritional and health traditions.28 Adults that reflection on garden aesthetics report experiencing a greater connection with nature.33 This improves feelings of achievement, physical, and mental wellbeing.33 It appears that gardening is more than a casual leisure pursuit for members of First Nation communities. The benefits of these programmes appear to help every member of the community, no matter the socioeconomic status.23,33,37 Government funding should improve access to fresh produce while increasing gardening and school-based resources to the community traditions of First Nations.


We will now go into more detail and logistics of the what, why, where, who & how of a community gardening program. Further sections are aimed at the general population, with certain portions containing scientific messaging if needed to provide evidence to a point.


Decolonizing our Relationship to Food Cultivation

Relationship Broken

The Indigenous cultural revitalization movement seeks to strip away the impacts of colonization on all facets of Indigenous society. The aim is also to invigorate the long suppressed cultural practices that are the core of Indigenous health, wellness, and community vitality. Central to those cultural practices is the cultivation of food, its preparation and use in celebration.

The Indigenous relationship with food was negatively impacted by many colonial practices. These included the use of food in forms of punishment and control on reserves and residential schools. Food experimentations were also carried out that involved intentional malnourishment and starvation.13

There is a growing body of research surrounding the impact of residential school experiences on the social determinants of health, especially mental health among Indigenous students. However, there is only recently been a light shed on the impacts of the long-term effects of malnutrition, starvation and their connection to the patterns of chronic disease among Indigenous peoples.

“When examined in the light of literature on the intergenerational effects of twentieth-century famines, this evidence suggests that high prevalence of metabolic risk factors among Indigenous peoples in Canada may be directly associated with the nutritional deprivations experienced by children in residential schools”.25

Informative Link:

Reclaiming the Relationship with Food

The basic survival of a community begins with securing access to food. With the current movement of Indigenous cultural, social, and political revitalization, individuals and communities are understanding that the relationship with food, its preparation and uses must be also revitalized and reclaimed.

This means moving beyond basic survival and food security to a deeper and richer understanding of food in connection to Indigenous identity. This movement is a reflection of the Indigenous community’s effort to gain sovereignty and control over a core element of community, health & wellness, and Indigenous revitalization.

Food Security and Sovereignty.png
Food Security

With many Indigenous communities in North America still facing high food prices due to their remote location, access to healthy affordable food is an important issue when looking at Indigenous health. However, there is a wider and deeper agenda around the reclamation of the relationship with food in the Indigenous revitalization movement, one where that the concept of food security is not adequately included.

Food security as defined by the United Nations' Committee on World Food Security, means that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life. Informative Link: International Food Policy Research Institute

Food Sovereignty

The concept of food sovereignty better defines the food reclamation movement because it builds in the complexity of the socio-political Indigenous movement of food reclamation. Food sovereignty was born out of the concept of food security. La Via Campesina, or the International Peasant’s Movement (IPM), defines food sovereignty as “the peoples, Countries, or State Unions RIGHT to define their agricultural and food policy, without any dumping vis-à-vis third countries.” IPM believes that the United Nations should adapt the right to food to include autonomy over one’s methods of producing, obtaining, and distributing food, amongst other processes of agriculture and food markets.

The concept of food sovereignty moves beyond the simple right to food by adding an understanding of the vital human connection to food. The acknowledgment that one should have a say in their relationship with food makes the movement more inclusive overall. These additional acknowledgements include the right to cultural life, rights of women, Indigenous practices, and environmental rights. Ultimately, food sovereignty does not diminish food security, but adds it as one factor to achieving a just and sustainable world.30

“Indigenizing” Food Sovereignty: An Indigenous Motivation to Garden

Obtaining control and reclamation over food production, can be recognized as the expression of the “Indigenizing” of food sovereignty. This act moves beyond a rights-based discourse by emphasizing the cultural responsibilities and relationships Indigenous peoples have with their environment. It also highlights the efforts being made by Indigenous communities to restore these relationships, through the revitalization of Indigenous foods and ecological knowledge systems.4

In their book Seeds of Resistance, Seeds of Hope: Place and Agency in the Conservation of Biodiversity. Nazeara, Rhoades, and Andrews-Swan build on the opinion of Cote, and take a look at the deeply-seeded motivations for planting among different cultures. In their collection of articles they demonstrate that the act of cultivation, planting, and preserving heirloom seeds. They collectively demonstrate that there is reason for hope.26

“The importance of cultural memory in the persistence of traditional or heirloom crops, as well as the agency exhibited by displaced and persecuted peoples in place-making and reconstructing nostalgic landscapes (including gardens from their homelands). Contributions explore local initiatives to save native and older seeds, the use of modern technologies to conserve heirloom plants, the bioconservation efforts of Indigenous people, and how genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been successfully combated.”26


Improvements in Family & Youth Nutrition

When asked, most parents would say that getting their children to eat a varied diet is easier said than done. Besides the socioeconomic and geographical factors that go into food availability, many children just don’t have the taste for “healthy” foods. There have been many theorized ways to entice kids to eat their vegetables, but none with benefits as far reaching as participating in gardening or farming program. These programs often include nutrition education on top of the experiential learning of growing food. But the act of gardening also becomes physical activity, a time for vital, unplugged social interactions and outdoors therapy. Getting families involved provides family bonding, and pulling in outside guidance and helpers - like college students - enables children to gain positive role models.

One study looked at the effects of a gardening and nutrition education program on a predominantly minority population of fifth graders. The researchers found that the curriculum plus gardening improved their nutrition knowledge and increased their preferences for fruit and vegetables. Even further, the program had more beneficial effects on younger students (2nd and 3rd graders) than older students (4th and 5th graders).27 This is good evidence for both using gardening to improve diet and involving more family members than just older children. Another study that used photographs of student lunches to examine nutrition quality found that students with more exposure to a program called Edible School Yard (ESY) ate less saturated fat and consumed more fruits than those who were less involved in the program.24 The ESY curriculum included gardening, cooking, and nutrition education.

Parents might be motivated to eat healthier themselves if their children express interest in it as well. Many parents fall into the time- and money-consuming habit of trying to avoid making two separate meals, one for them, one for their children, by just making one. This is usually an “unhealthier” option that the parents then eat too. If the children start to enjoy healthier foods, it could lead to whole families improving their diets. Another research study focused on families living in a subsidized housing complex. Parents of children participating in a gardening program were asked what they thought about the impact it had on their kids. The parents felts that it improved their child's nutrition knowledge, made them more willing to try new vegetables, and that because of those things it had a positive impact on their family. Parents were also happy that their children took pride in the garden, and that the college student mentorship that was part of the program was very beneficial.22

Many gardens may have spaces on or near secondary schools or universities. Partnering the gardening program with older students could provide an excellent mentorship source for younger gardeners. This could be less formal than typical tutor or coach type mentors, leading to more openness in the relationship. In Indigenous communities, it would be a way for younger teens to start thinking and talking about their future in a safe environment with mentors close to their age who understand both the opportunities and challenges in their life.

In regards to elders, gardening may help slow cognitive decline, be an excellent social outlet, and support aging in place.35 Some of the mechanisms that cause gardening to reduce or protect against cognitive decline are known, like increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and increased participation in exercise, while others are still unknown to scientists.41 Another study found that, “Increased engagement in social, physical, or intellectual pursuits were related to a decreased risk of dementia”.21 In Indigenous communities where intergenerational knowledge communication is a vital part of culture, involvement of entire families - from children to grandparents - not only positively impacts the individual but also the group as a whole.

Physical Benefits of Gardening

Beyond the mental benefits of gardening are many physical benefits to health. In kids and youth, gardening has been found to increase metabolism during activity as much as eight times resting values.29 In seniors, these numbers are reported to be as high as six times resting values.11 In the instance of children, gardening represents physical activity intensities ranging from low-to-high,29 and in seniors, low-to-medium.11 Because of its relative intensity, gardening contributes towards a person’s total amount of physical activity, and physical activity is associated with many benefits to health.40 As a result, gardening may contribute towards improving not only physical health, but also peoples’ quality of life and how long they live.34,36

Gardening has specific impacts on certain health conditions, both in terms of reducing their risk of occurrence and improving these conditions in people who already have them. Gardening has been found to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, suggesting that gardening may help to moderate these conditions, which are considered factors for heart disease.7,4,3 Diabetes, another risk factor for heart disease, has also been shown to be positively influenced by community gardening initiatives.15

Another area of health positively affected by gardening is weight control.10,43 Studies have found that gardening helps in maintaining a healthy weight due to higher fruit and vegetable intake, awareness of nutrition and the food consumed, and increased physical activity.43 Gardening may also help to reduce back pain,12 knee pain and osteoarthritis symptoms,20 and pain from conditions such as fibromyalgia,39 as well as increasing joint mobility and preventing its decline.19

Despite its many benefits, gardening may also contribute to injury if done incorrectly. Little research exists on the treatment or prevention of gardening-related injuries, nor research into exact causes, severity, and prevalence. Despite the lack of studies, proposed preventative measures are presented within gardening communities and by physiotherapists. Such cautions include warming up prior to gardening, bending at the hips, using proper sized tools, avoiding overuse of one side of the body, using knee pads, and taking rests, among others. This noticeable gap suggests future research may be required to assess specific gardening tasks that are suitable for persons who experience pain while gardening, or for those who may have mobility impairments. Further information on how to reduce pain while gardening can be found at:

Despite these cautions, gardening presents many benefits to physical health. Interestingly, it has been found that gardening not only serves as a form of physical activity itself, but also increases physical activity in other areas of daily living.38 As a result, the education and healthy choices around gardening exist within the gardening setting, but also transfer beyond to have meaningful effects for all members of a community.


Indigenous Gardening Traditions

For many Indigenous communities there are long pre-contact histories of planting. Crops such as corn, potatoes, tobacco, and cocoa were first cultivated in the Americas and then exported throughout the world.

In order to understand the importance of Indigenous gardening, it is important to understand its rich history. One of the most famous practices was the planting of the three sisters, corn, beans, and squash.

The Three Sisters

The pre-contact practice of companion planting is still very popular in Indigenous communities, in particular the Haudenosaunee. The most famous is the planting of the Three Sisters; or corn, beans, and squash.

This method includes, the three crops being planted close together on flat-topped mounds of soil.  Each mound is about 30 cm high and 50 cm wide. Several corn seeds are planted close together in the center of each mound. When the corn is 15 cm tall, beans and squash are planted around the maize, alternating between the two kinds of seeds.

The three crops support the growth of one another. The corn provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent the establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a "living mulch", creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. The three plants contain complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and all nine essential amino acids, allowing for complete nutrition.

Examples like the Three Sisters illuminate the rich history knowledge of cultivating the earth practiced by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Revitalizing these types of practices serves a two-fold benefit of translating knowledge between generations and providing nutrition education.

"The Haudenosaunee Legend of the Three Sisters

The term 'Three Sisters' emerged from the Iroquois creation myth. It was said that the earth began when 'Sky Woman' who lived in the upper world peered through a hole in the sky and fell through to an endless sea. The animals saw her coming, so they took the soil from the bottom of the sea and spread it onto the back of a giant turtle to provide a safe place for her to land. This 'Turtle Island' is now what we call North America.

Sky woman had become pregnant before she fell. When she landed, she gave birth to a daughter. When the daughter grew into a young woman, she also became pregnant (by the West wind). She died while giving birth to twin boys. Sky Woman buried her daughter in the 'new earth.' From her grave grew three sacred plants—corn, beans, and squash. These plants provided food for her sons, and later, for all of humanity. These special gifts ensured the survival of the Iroquois people."31

Vegetable Garden Panorama

Modern Day Where & Who

Indigenous Gardens come in all forms and locations, with various intentions and objectives. Whether they are personal family gardens or larger community gardens, there remains a constant theme: they are planted to bring forth positive energy and hope. Through physical activity to combat health issues, acts of food sovereignty, or to help patients who are undergoing substance abuse treatment, the simple act of getting hands in the soil and supporting life brings about positive change in all who participate.

Examples of Established Gardens

Tsyunhehkwa helps Oneida community members start their own organic gardens at home. A separate tribal canning operation helps people preserve fruit, vegetables, and other food. Director Jeff Metoxen advises people to start small, achieve a success, and then build on it. Tsyunhehkwa offer community workshops and encourages the use of its green house and hoop houses for starter plants, given the short growing season in Wisconsin.2

Suquamish Tribe Harvest

From gardens located throughout the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Washington State, the Suquamish Tribe harvested more than 1,000 pounds of foods in 2012. A garden for an Elders Kitchen supplies such produce as lettuce, potatoes, vegetables, and herbs. The Pathway to Healing Garden provides traditional plants and herbs that are used to create medicines, teas, and products distributed to tribal members. The Indigenous Foods garden grows local berries, plants, and other foods native to Suquamish people.

Northwest Indian Treatment Center Healing Garden

At the Northwest Indian Treatment Center in Elma, Washington, a healing garden allows patients receiving treatment for drug and alcohol addiction to incorporate traditional plants and herbs into their recovery, reconnecting them to their culture. Run by the Squaxin Island Tribe, the center established a Native Foods Nutrition Project to increase patients’ access to and knowledge of traditional foods. Weekly classes teach patients to grow, harvest and cook these foods; and patients leave the facility with a certificate in traditional foods.

Video Source:

Flathead Indian Reservation Community Gardens

Several community gardens located throughout the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana provide space for tribal members to grow their own foods. A partnership between the Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Salish Kootenai College Extension, and Kerr Elderly Center helps sustain the gardens with funding, personnel, and management. Foods harvested are distributed to tribal members eligible to receive commodities.8

Santo Domingo Pueblo Greenhouse

On the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico, a greenhouse located at the senior center provides ingredients for salads to elders throughout the winter. Elders worked alongside the pueblo’s youth to plant the garden in October 2012. The pueblo – known for its rich farming history – creates many opportunities for elders and youth to work together, allowing elders to teach young people about traditional plants, using traditional language.

Video Source:

Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawas Raised Garden Bed

Working in small stages, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawas is planning raised beds and window boxes for its elders to grow food. The Home Grown Project, organized by the Michigan tribe’s community health department, began its multi-year effort by contracting with a local farmer to plant extra seeds so new plants can be distributed to community members (who also participate in cooking classes). The project’s next phase is focused on encouraging families to gather their own food: leaders will organize group outings to pick blueberries, blackberries, and apples. The third phase involves building the garden beds for elders.

Eabametoong First Nation Community Garden Project

Eabametoong First Nation is located 360 kilometers north of Thunder Bay. They recently obtained a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to further develop their 5 acre farm. Over the next three years, they will be growing fresh food for the community, offering jobs and skills training, and creating a local farm business. All of this will take place in a manner that honours traditional wisdom from the Elders.9

Waywayseecappo First Nation

Waywayseecappo First Nation is located 280km northwest of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The garden movement was started by a mother of four who found the price of fresh good was too expensive and began her own personal garden. With the support of a non-profit organization called "Feed the Children" there has since been a growth in personal and community gardens within Wawayseecappo.18


Kahnawake Mohawks

Kahnawake Mohawk Territory is located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence river across from Montreal. Their community garden was started by two teachers - Kanerahtiio Hemlock and Raven Hemlock - in 2015. The 8-hectare space is on a recently returned piece of land. It brings together the community to learn and share traditional gardening knowledge. The fruits and vegetables grown are shared with those who participate and the community's schools and elders' lodge.5


For many, the idea of creating a garden is a daunting project. With so many ways to go about gardening the first question often asked is, “Where do I even begin?” Fortunately there are many online resources and communities that can help you on your journey. The best way to go about any new project is to start small, ask lots of questions, keep learning, and don’t give up. See the links below for knowledge and advice. Before you know it you will be a veteran gardener with a harvest to share.

Acquiring Seeds

Starting a Community Garden

Gardening Basics


In conclusion, Indigenous community gardening initiatives present many potential benefits by fostering community health and wellness. Beyond physical benefits to health (such as increasing physical activity and reducing the risks of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease) gardening may also assist in pain management, particularly in older persons. From a behavioural change perspective, gardening may assist in maintaining a healthy lifestyle including active living and the consumption of healthy foods (such fruits and vegetable). Importantly, healthy gardening initiatives can facilitate multiple health and wellness that may not be traditionally associated with other forms of physical activity.

Many positive effects of community gardening initiatives are also observed in the social and political environment. Community gardens offer the opportunity to foster community through generational teachings and an intermingling of people of all ages. Further, education surrounding gardening may assist in educating community members, especially children and youth, about healthy nutritional habits, facilitating healthy development of the next generation of community leaders. Additionally, community gardens provide more sustainable, consistent access to higher quality foods, at a lower cost. Lastly, gardening presents the reclamation of sovereignty, via the re-establishment of shared community land, the de-colonization of nutritional practices, and restoration of Indigenous practices in cooking and herbal medicine.


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