How a community garden in Mahone Bay is tackling big issues like food security and climate change

by Kevin Mcbain

  • <p>KEVIN MCBAIN PHOTO</p><p>Owners Jessika Hepburn (left) and Chris Graham of Mahone Bay&#8217;s Biscuit Eater Caf&#233; and Book, along with workers Justin Andrews and Coco Harris, plan to transform the cafe&#8217;s yard into a community garden.</p>


Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying "Be the change that you wish to see in the world."

Jessika Hepburn and partner Chris Graham, owners of Mahone Bay's The Biscuit Eater Café and Bookstore, are living that quote. They are trying to make a difference in their community by building a garden on their property and offering the food for free to those that need it.

To kick the garden project off, a launch party will be held at the The Biscuit Eater Café and Bookstore Monday, May 6 from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. where people can come get more information and sign up to show your support to volunteer or make a donation.

Hepburn said she got the idea from conversations she had with people in the community and from her own experience.

"I grew up in the inner city in East Vancouver and I had a single, poor mom, and the access to good, healthy food was something that she struggled to provide," she said. "I see that our communities are becoming more affluent and there's a growing divide between the people who can eat well and the people that can't.

"We don't want anybody to get left behind. We wanted to make this café a place where, I don't care how poor you are, we'll feed you, and I don't care how rich you are, we'll treat you the same," added Hepburn.

"This was the idea behind the community garden and the idea that we can address things that scare us, like climate change and the changing world and the lack of work and employment in good fields. We can do this without a huge amount of hassle and we can create something cool together."

The garden is being built, literally from the ground up. As of last week, all the property is grass, the same as a regular backyard.

However, this will be transformed by garden coordinators Justin Andrews and Coco Harris who have been hired, thanks to a grant from the United Nations Association in Canada Green Spaces initiative. This funding is aimed at projects that aim to address climate change, focusing on creating green spaces and green jobs.

Both are chefs by trade and Andrews, who is from Halifax, is in his first year of studying sustainability, trying to address climate change and global hunger issues at Dalhousie University.

"It's something I'm steeped in," he said. "These are big issues and this is an inspiring way to work on those issue by providing food for people."

Harris is a resident of Bridgewater and a herbalist who also works in the child care, youth engagement fields.

They have been working hard at visualizing the gardens and getting things organized, starting and maintaining the gardens.

However, this is a community garden and the community is being asked for their support through donations of finances or supplies; and volunteering.

"We really want community involvement. We want people to come out and to volunteer and be a part of this vision that we have of growing a community garden," said Hepburn.

There will be work parties, chores to do and just general upkeep throughout the growing season.

More than 200 square feet of garden will be available to hold herbs, vegetables and fruit. They also hope to plant fruit trees as well.

The food will then be available for free to those who may need some fresh vegetables or fruit. As the produce becomes ready Hepburn and staff will host Saturday market gardens where people can come and pick up the items that they may need, plus other food and crafts will be for sale.

There is also the idea of putting out a food pantry in front of the café, so that people can pick up items anytime.

Staff are also planning some different things, such as making soup and giving it away and holding workshops on subjects such as turning garden produce into pickles.

Andrews said that the key is to not only to work on sustainability now, but also for the future.

"The textbook definition of sustainability that the United Nations would use comes from this document called the Brundtland Report that was released in 1987," he said. "It said that sustainability is about meeting our needs without compromising the meeting of needs for our future generations.

"I did meet an Indigenous man who went one step further, [who said we should be] meeting our own needs while ensuring future generations have great abundance," he added.

The Brundtland Report was released by the World Commission on Environment and Development that introduced the concept of sustainable development and described how it could be achieved.

Andrews said they will be planting carrots, but also planting fruit trees and berry bushes that will be around for many years.

Hepburn is keen to get things rolling.

"It's about bringing people together around shared values to deal with common problems, so if food security is a problem, how can we solve it together," she said. "

Whatever your background is, we're neighbours first and I think by planting gardens together, by hugging each other's kids, we may start to remember we're not different from each other. We have all the same needs – we're hungry, we worry about our kids' futures, we want all want a good place to live, so let's work together to make it happen."

Hepburn and Graham purchased The Biscuit Eater Café and Bookstore in 2016 and is located on 16 Orchard Street in Mahone Bay. For more information on the Change garden you can go to the website: https://thebiscuiteater.com/pages/changegarden or if you can email them at: garden@thebiscuiteater.com.

Hepburn, with the help of Faterna Sidat, is also the organizer of Maritime Makers, a group that was organized to grow the creative economy in Atlantic Canada through events, markets and mapping the makers and markets of the region online – maritimemakers.com. Vendors that are part of this group will be part of the regular Saturday markets as well.

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