In the heat of the summer months, especially one as hot as this summer, it is often tempting to hide away in the comfort of our air-conditioned homes. As a result, there is a whole world of community opportunity that remains untouched by many. Though it doesn’t have to be this way. Outside our front doors there is ample opportunity to become engaged with our neighbours and our broader communities.
One initiative that has been particularly successful in helping to draw people together has been the increased popularity of community gardens within our neighbourhoods. Community gardens act as an important meeting point for neighbours. They help to bring people together in pursuit of a common interest, and in doing so, help to deepen our communities.
There are few things as rewarding as growing your own food, a fact that is not lost on two of Niagara Falls’ residents, 88-year-old Hilde Cieminski and 52-year-old Annie Ricica.
The powerful friendship that emerged between these two is something to be admired. Two individuals, by reckoning of both age and experience, have been brought together by the beauty and humble nature of a community garden. Their plot, behind Glengate Alliance church in Niagara Falls, is part of a growing trend of community gardens emerging throughout the region.
Their garden was offered by the Church to Project SHAREas part of a growing movement to help feed families and reduce poverty. This broader coalition, known as the Niagara Prosperity Initiative, hopes “community gardens [will] bring people together to grow, produce and build lives.” says Rick Merritt, who organizes the initiative.
He describes the overall intent of the project quite nicely:
"The idea is to help people stretch their food budgets by growing what they need. Dig deeper, however, and [sic] the harvest isn't only about tomatoes, beets and beans. It's about empowerment. Social inclusion. Healthy eating habits and exercise. Improved self esteem. Reduced isolation. And a healthy crop of pride and accomplishment."
Groups such as the Niagara Prosperity Initiative and Project SHARE are helping to bring individuals closer together by engaging them in food production at the community level.
Ultimately, our communities are best strengthened by the commitment of individuals to one another, and the bonds created between each other. Relationships like that which grew between Hilde and Annie might not have emerged in the absence of a community garden.