F9B Blog

Permaculture is a familiar term for many, but what is it?


In simple terms, permaculture looks at agricultural systems from a holistic lens and views land use more naturally. The term was coined by Bill Mollison -- an Australian researcher and biologist -- in 1978 in which he defined permaculture as “the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems."


Mollison said that people could sustainably cultivate food, energy, shelter and other needs by becoming one with the landscape.


In short, permaculture systems:

  • Produce little/no waste outputs
  • Consist of gardens that imitate nature
  • Maximize the use of water, sun and other natural energies
  • Require less energy input than conventional systems (i.e., limited human intervention)
  • The aim of this system is to provide sustenance and habitat for people and native animals
  • Focus on locally produced food to reduce the energy output associated with transporting food

The University of Guelph’s Arboretum is home to our very own campus permaculture garden, which is a part of the Gosling Wildlife Gardens. This teaching resource and ecological hub is available to all members of the public to visit, as well as native species to inhabit. 


Horticulture Technician and Arboretum Head Gardener, Caelum Wishart, spearheaded the design and development of the garden in collaboration with other colleagues in the Arboretum. 


Cael Wishart, Head Gardener, and Matteo Pereira, Summer Gardening Assistant, surrounded by raised planters and garden plots in the U of G Arboretum

Cael Wishart, Head Gardener (left) and Matteo Pereira, Summer Gardening Assistant (right). 

(Photo credit: Richelle Forsey)


“The wildlife gardens intend to demonstrate practical approaches, thoughtful plant choices and useful garden features in hopes to inspire visitors to incorporate these elements in their backyards to help attract, sustain and protect a variety of wildlife,” says Wishart. 


The Gosling Wildlife gardens include five separate gardens, each with a different theme; however, all the gardens share many similarities.


The Permaculture Garden is a multi-year project which currently features raised planter boxes, trellises made from recycled wood from previous garden arches, edible pollinator-friendly plants and patio space for gatherings and workshops. 


Many plants in the garden are locally sourced – some species developed by U of G researchers, including Guelph Millennium Asparagus and the Yukon Gold potato. By cultivating locally sourced plant species, Wishart says, encourages the public to buy or grow locally.


“The Permaculture Garden allows us to plant things that fit within the permaculture garden theme that aren’t found anywhere else in the Arboretum,” says Wishart. “This includes hardy kiwi, concord grape, globe artichokes, African Thai basil and unique cultivars of apples, pears and plums.”


This space will soon be an area bountiful in edible perennials and annuals, as well as fruiting trees and shrubs which serve an educational purpose, says Wishart.


In addition to planning what kind of plants would inhabit the garden, many factors were considered when designing and developing the garden.


For example, an area with a good amount of sunlight was crucial for the survival of many edible plant species. 


And foot traffic to the other wildlife gardens was considered, which would better orient people around the whole of the Gosling Wildlife Gardens.


“I took inspiration from several permaculture design books and articles, but also had to consider the space we were working with and come up with a site analysis,” says Wishart. “Without this background information, it would be far too difficult to know what size to build things off-site and how it would look once everything is planted and constructed.”


While there are many aspects to building a permaculture garden, Wishart says, several features of the garden are most significant: reusing, recycling and limiting interaction with garden elements as much as possible. 


For example, the nursery compost pile was used as the soil for the planter boxes; and the water used for the gardens has been sourced from a rainwater harvesting system.


Wishart hopes that this garden will be a gathering place for avid gardeners and members of the public that want to learn more about the benefits of permaculture. 


The Arboretum offers frequent workshops, nature camps and tours of the Gosling Wildlife Gardens to show people the important aspects that encompass the gardens – and provide ways in which people can add these to their gardens. 


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Farming is often a family business, which can make it difficult for new farmers to establish themselves. What does this mean in Canadian agriculture, where a majority of the farming community is white? A member of our research team, Abdul-Rahim Abdulai, recently shared his experience with being a Black farmer in Canada and how diversity is the key to success for the industry in this article from the Globe & Mail. 


Read the article here



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Often, we don’t think twice about the food in our fridge, but for some Canadians, especially those who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), this is not the case... In a previous blog post, we explored factors that contribute to Canadian household food insecurity, including the interactions between race, low income, home ownership, and level of education. Part II of this post looks into the physical and mental toll of food insecurity, and what we can do to change these trends.



Effects of Food Insecurity


Food insecurity is a public health problem. Food security status has a profound impact on household health and wellbeing. Below are some of the consequences of food insecurity.

  • Physical Health - Food insecurity can harm the physical health of both children and adults. Micronutrient deficiencies, poor sleeping patterns, and lower diet quality are common results of food insecurity. Such issues are contributing factors to becoming more vulnerable to health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and obesity. In children, food insecurity issues can lead to lower physical functions, increased developmental risks, and poor educational outcomes.

  • Mental Health - Food insecurity has a profound effect on the mental health of an individual. The stressors brought on by food insecurity can increase the rate of mental health problems such as depression, mood disorders, and behavioral problems. 

Higher household food insecurity is tightly linked to rising health care costs. Access to an adequate diet will aid in reducing healthcare bills and place less strain on the nation’s healthcare system.



Addressing BIPOC Household Food Insecurity


Systemic oppression stemming from white supremacy and settler colonialism has left detrimental and lasting effects on Black and Indigenous households. To address these issues, a multifaceted approach with measurable timelines and targets is essential. Food charity organizations such as community kitchens and food banks help mitigate immediate food security concerns. However, food charity often depoliticizes the food insecurity issue. Charitable organizations cannot fix deeply embedded food insecurity issues that are too often offloaded onto them. Governments at all levels must use their power to influence system changes with special regard to the housing market, employment sector, and education system.


Land Access

  • Full access to the rights to land and water for all Indigenous peoples — rights they are entitled to. 
  • In low-income neighborhoods, there is often limited access to healthy and affordable food. The BIPOC community must be included in the food growing process. To cultivate food sovereignty, communities require land to grow, manage, and distribute culturally appropriate food.
    • To assist BIPOC farmers, increased accessibility to farm loans is necessary.
inside of a greenhouse at Black Creek Community Farm showing small plants sprouting

(Photo credit: Vivian Ma, taken at Black Creek Community Farm)


Income and Social Support 

  • Need for evidence-based policy interventions and leadership by the federal government, targeted to the source of the problem.
  • Better economic opportunities and income support. The income gap can be closed by increasing equitable access to adequate employment.
  • Advocacy aimed at senior government levels to move towards a living wage — the hourly wage necessary to meet basic expenses. A guaranteed national income would be most impactful.
  • Provincial and territorial governments have the power to engage in policies including minimum wages, social assistance, and housing programs.
    • Adjust the level of social assistance to match the cost of basic necessities.
    • The Canada Child Benefit (CCB) has proven helpful in reducing food insecurity in low-income families. Reassess benefits such as CCB and Canada Workers Benefit (CWB) to ensure adequate support.



  • Support for Black and Indigenous food producers. 
  • Increased funding for food justice centered farms and organizations such as Afri-Can Food Basket and Black Creek Community Farm. Such organizations focus on those most affected by food insecurity and hold a commitment to dismantling racism in the food system.
  • Sundance Harvest is an urban farm located in Toronto, Ontario. They are committed to eliminating institutionalized racism in the food system.  A free mentorship program called Growing in the Margins provides urban farming education for marginalized youth within the food system.
  • Support for community food programs such as The SEED in Guelph, Ontario.

We have societal responsibilities to our community, such that we must stand up for injustices and actively try to mitigate the problems of food injustice. We require a national strategy centered around long-term solutions. Anti-oppression frameworks can be developed in workplaces and institutions to further combat racism. It is not enough to be sympathetic towards these issues, action is needed. A multifaceted approach featuring economic support and opportunities will aid in the wellbeing of the most vulnerable populations and allow for the cultivation of food sovereignty within these communities. 



Supporting Articles:

  1. Brown, E.M., and Tarasuk, V. (2019). Money speaks: Reductions in severe food insecurity follow the Canada Child Benefit. Preventative Medicine, 129, 105876. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2019.105876

  2. Roberts, Melana. (2020, February 3). Black Food Insecurity in Canada. Broadbent Institute. www.broadbentinstitute.ca/Black_food_insecurity_in_canada
  3. Suga, H. (2018). Household Food Unavailability Due to Financial Constraints Affects the Nutrient Intake of Children. European Journal of Public Health, 29(5), 816-820. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/cky263
  4. Tarasuk V, and Mitchell A. (2020) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2017-18. PROOF. https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Household-Food-Insecurity-in-Canada-2017-2018-Full-Reportpdf.pdf
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Although we produce more than enough food in Canada, people of colour are consistently our most food insecure population. 28.9% of Black Canadian households and 11.1% of White Canadian households experience food insecurity. This means that Black Canadians are approximately three times more likely to be food insecure.


[approximately 3 in 10 Black Canadians are food insecure; approximately 1 in 10 White Canadians are food insecure]

Prominence of Food Insecurity in Black and White Canadians. Reproduced from Tarasuk, V., & Mitchell, A. (2018).


Food insecure households often must turn to emergency food programs like food banks. Food banks are excellent resources for temporary situations but they are not often being used long-term. For many Black Canadians, food banks are not a reliable source of culturally appropriate food and, in some cases, nutritionally adequate diets.


I have been volunteering at foodbanks for approximately 4 years and from these experiences I can comment that some foodbanks are not as privileged as others. The majority of Canadian food banks run through a procedure where boxes of non-perishable food items are handed out to food insecure families.  Although this provides food, it cannot support a full, proper diet.  There’s often no meat, no dairy and no produce included. The harsh reality of this method is that cultural needs are neglected by this current food bank setup. Currently, this situation is being exasperated by the COVID-19 Pandemic as more Canadians seek emergency food programs. The pressures that the pandemic has placed upon the Canadian food system is an example of why long-term change has to be made.


Urban agriculture initiatives are a potential solution and are being pioneered by Black communities. Organizations like Black Creek Community Farm, based out of Toronto, Ontario, are notable voices in this movement. Farming in the city, whether it be in greenhouses, on rooftop farms or through outdoor community gardens, allow Black communities to address food insecurity in a self-sufficient way. By growing food in the city, Black Canadians have control over what they grow and where they grow it. This food will often be culturally appropriate, and have better nutritional value than what food banks can offer.


When Black Canadians can choose what food they grow, culturally important crops stand out. Urban farms like Black Creek Community Farm have become a staple for over 3000 Black Torontonians by cultivating culturally appropriate vegetables like cassava, okra and callaloo. These crops will support nutritionally adequate diets by providing a cheaper alternative for produce for Black neighbourhoods since this is not a viable option for most traditional food banks.


Funding and policy are the only way that urban agriculture can continue to support Black communities. As the Black Food Justice movement is only starting to take its voice in the public realm, policy makers need to start listening and invoke the appropriate changes. Emergency food programs are not capable of supporting Black Canadians long-term anymore. Permanent solutions like urban agriculture need to be considered. Policy makers need to start investing in suitable development action plans. To ensure Canada’s food system is just, Black Canadians have to have their say. They need control over their food. Urban agriculture can ensure that. Change needs to start now.



Supporting Resources:

  1. Garth, H., & Reese, A. M. (Eds.). (2020). Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice. University of Minnesota.
  2. Igbavboa, H., & Elliot, S. (n.d.). The Challenge of Food Sovereignty for Black Farmers in the Greater Toronto Area. https://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/socialinnovation/News/
  3. Jabakhanji, S. (2021). Meet some of Toronto’s food justice advocates championing Black food sovereignty. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/black-food-sovereignty-toronto-food-advocates-1.5857154?fbclid=IwAR0SBTF1JjUAJnJTPxJqPiZvtg6kMig1abw
  4. Tarasuk, V., & Mitchell, A. (2018). Household Food Insecurity in Canada. PROOF. https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Household-Food-Insecurity-in-Canada-2017-2018-Full-Reportpdf.pdf


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It’s estimated that the world population will grow to almost 10 billion by 2050, and as such, there will be a greater strain on the food system. This is why sustainable agriculture is becoming increasingly important to reduce climate change and promote food security in the long run.


Ironically, while agriculture is one of the primary industries sustaining human life, it's also a leading industry that puts a strain on the environment. From livestock farming to soil tilling, many factors in the agri-food sector contribute to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions.


Climate change leads to unfavourable farming conditions which jeopardize the efforts to feed a growing population. And while the effects of climate change span the globe, the communities feeling the effects most are often lower-income communities. These communities are often the lowest contributors to climate change.


In 2015, all the United Nations Member States adopted The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — this included 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) to help transform and encourage action in areas of concern impacting both people and the planet.

SDG2 and SDG13 -- zero hunger and climate action, respectively -- are the two focal points outlined in FAO’s Work on Climate Change guidebook.


Various researchers at U of G are studying this food-climate change intersection and are actively working to promote sustainable agriculture for a more food secure future.


Dr. Claudia Wagner-Riddle
In 2019, School of Environmental Science professor, Dr. Claudia Wagner-Riddle’s “Climate-smart soils” project was awarded $1.65 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. This project aims to optimize and preserve soil health and to further enhance food production. Most of the world’s food is produced on soils, and with the rising population, sustainable farming methods are becoming more critical. The Climate-Smart Soils program encourages widespread knowledge of soil health for students interested in pursuing a career related to environmental conservation and sustainable agriculture. The funding for this project has allowed a consortium of professors at the University of Guelph to offer courses related to soil ecosystems, sustainable agriculture and climate-smart soil practices. 



Dr. Christine Baes

A University of Guelph Dairy expert Dr. Christine Baes is well known for her research to reduce methane gas production in dairy cattle through a genome selection project. Cows release methane into the atmosphere through burping, and while it’s a natural process, some cows are naturally less gassy. Baes’ research focuses primarily on selectively breeding cattle that normally produce lower methane.



Muck Crops Research Station

The Muck Crops Research station is located in the Holland Marsh area and is rich in loose organic soil, known as muck, that remains after draining swamp or marshland. The loose nature of the soil allows for greater growth. Various professors at the research station focus their studies on optimizing awareness about sustainable agriculture, with an added focus on crop protection.


A landscape of open sky and a tilled field, with agricultural equipment and storage off to the right side

An open field at the Muck Crops Research Station.

(Photo credit: Mya Kidson)




Supporting Information:

1. United Nations. (2019). World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights. https://population.un.org/wpp/Publications/Files/WPP2019_10KeyFindings.pdf

2. United Nations. (n.d.). The 17 Goals. https://sdgs.un.org/goals

3. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2018). FAO's Work on Climate Change. http://www.fao.org/3/CA2607EN/ca2607en.pdf



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Often, we don’t think twice about the food in our fridge, but for some Canadians, especially those who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), this is not the case. Food insecurity is characterised by concerns of running out of food, nutrient inadequacies, and in severe cases, not eating for several whole days. Unfortunately, BIPOC communities have a significantly higher chance of facing household food insecurity mainly due to a lower average income. This income issue is a direct consequence of deeply ingrained systemic racism. Policies reflecting systemic colonialism continue to advantage white people, leading to racial inequities in all aspects of life for the BIPOC community. 


A groups of red pawns gathered closely together, and one black pawn separated from the group

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


The disparity between white and BIPOC households when it comes to food security has been a lasting issue in Canada. 1 in 8 Canadian households, amounting to over 4 million people, struggle with food insecurity on a daily basis. Among this population, there is a disproportionate number of BIPOC households. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the existing inequities in these marginalized communities.


A bar graph showing the proportion of Canadian households of various racial/cultural identities and Indigenous status that are food insecure

Prevalence of household food insecurity in relation to racial/cultural identity and Indigenous status. Reproduced from "Household Food Insecurity in Canada," PROOF: Food Insecurity Policy Research.


Food insecurity rates are highest in Nunavut, where Indigenous households make up the majority of the population. Across Canada, 28.2% of Indigenous households and 28.9% of Black households are food insecure, while only 11.1% of white households are food insecure. Black Canadians and Indigenous peoples are significantly more likely to face food insecurity compared to white Canadians, even when accounting for factors like homeownership, income, and education levels. 



Trends in Household Food Insecurity


There are many factors to account for when examining food insecurity in BIPOC households. Contributing factors for greater food insecurity include, but are not limited to:

  • Low wages and Unemployment – One of the major reasons for food insecurity within BIPOC households is the enduring and prevailing racial income inequality. Tarasuk (2020) found that food insecurity affects 60.4% of households relying on social assistance, a demographic mainly consisting of the BIPOC community. Similarly, a publication by the Metcalf Foundation found that the largest group of the working poor, a class of working citizens that fall below the poverty line, in Toronto consists of racialized individuals. Namely, Black females, Black males, and South Asian Males. Families that are dealing with financial problems are likely to have little money left to spend on food after they pay their mortgage or rent.
  • Race – Low-income white households experience certain levels of food insecurity as well, but there are privileges inherent to their race that allow them to bounce back in ways that BIPOC households cannot. A research collaboration between PROOF and Food Share (2019) has shown that race is an overwhelming predictor of food insecurity. Within the Canadian population, Black and Indigenous households are at the greatest risk of food insecurity.  

  • Housing – Homeownership greatly protects against food insecurity. However, this privilege differs by race. According to Tarasuk (2020), 61% of food-insecure households are renting their home. A slight increase in the minimum wage in recent years is not enough to offset the rising rental costs in many neighbourhoods and cities such as Toronto. 

A set of keys next to a small red and white toy house

Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash


  • Education – There is an evident connection between education and household food security. The quality of education that you receive predicts how much you are going to earn. The structural barriers and lack of equal opportunities when it comes to education between white and BIPOC Canadians is a direct contributor to the food insecurity problem.

Household food insecurity compromises the health and wellbeing of those affected. Deeply embedded racial biases and policies continue to persist and affect BIPOC households across Canada. Understanding the roots of food insecurity allows us to tackle this issue on all fronts. 



Supporting Articles:

  1. Dhunna, S., and Tarasuk, V. (2019). Fact Sheet: Race and Food Insecurity. Proof and FoodShare. https://foodshare.net/custom/uploads/2019/11/PROOF_factsheet_press_FINAL.6.pdf
  2. Roberts, Melana. (2020, February 3). Black Food Insecurity in Canada. Broadbent Institute. www.broadbentinstitute.ca/Black_food_insecurity_in_canada
  3. Stapleton, J. (2019). The Working Poor in the Toronto Region: A closer look at the increasing numbers. Metcalf Foundation. https://metcalffoundation.com/site/uploads/2019/11/Working-Poor-2019-NEW.pdf
  4. Suga, H. (2018). Household Food Unavailability Due to Financial Constraints Affects the Nutrient Intake of Children. European Journal of Public Health, 29(5), 816-820. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/cky263
  5. Tarasuk V, and Mitchell A. (2020) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2017-18. Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Household-Food-Insecurity-in-Canada-2017-2018-Full-Reportpdf.pdf
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The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has identified reducing the amount of meat in our diets as a key step toward decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change. However, this is easier said than done. In Western society, most of us are used to eating meat with every meal. And although enough calories are technically being produced to feed everyone on earth a full diet, not enough fruits and vegetables are being produced to feed everyone a healthy diet. As consumers, we can have an effect on this pattern by increasing demand for more healthy foods, but this does not necesarily mean sacrificing flavour!


Vegetables are a very important part of our diet that provide us with the nutrients we need to stay healthy. These include potassium, fiber, folate, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and many more. Sometimes it’s a challenge to figure out how to include more vegetables in our diets. In today’s post I’m going to be sharing some easy and delicious ways to up your intakes.


Eating Seasonally


Eating seasonally is a method that is very beneficial in many ways. Firstly, when eating seasonally foods are fresher. This means better taste and a longer shelf life. Also, since these vegetables are in season, they are less expensive for farms to distribute. This means they are cheaper for you to buy. Eating seasonally also naturally provides you with a good variety of different vegetables. This variety ensures you get an array of different vitamins and minerals to keep your diet balanced. See the link at the end of the post for a list of seasonal vegetables in Ontario.




In many dishes it is easy to swap certain ingredients out.


  • Noodles can be swapped with spiralized vegetables
  • Mushrooms can be a good alternative to ground meat
  • Swap mild tasting veggies for some fruit in your smoothie
    • Good options include spinach, kale and avocado
  • Try swapping out a bun with a lettuce wrap

You can add veggies to almost anything, so get creative!


Cooking Methods


Sometimes we only stick with what we know and play it safe. To expand your options try using different cooking methods. If you’ve only had a vegetable prepared a certain way and didn’t like it, you may actually enjoy it cooked differently. Most vegetables can be roasted, grilled, steamed or boiled. Roasting is actually one of the best methods to retain all those valuable nutrients. Try roasting in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper.




Soups are another method to increase vegetable intake. You can utilize vegetables in so many ways to create a great tasting soup. You can puree them into a soup base or save vegetable scraps to make your own vegetable broth. Most soups can hold a variety of vegetables and legumes ranging from lentils and beans to carrots and zucchini. This is an especially good option for picky eaters. This way you can add different kinds of vegetables in that you normally wouldn’t eat by themselves.


Meal Prepping


You are much more likely to eat your recommended servings if you have a plan in place. By having your veggies prepped for the week it will make them accessible to you. You will be more likely to reach for them if you’ve put some work into it and they are already prepared for you to grab and go. This also helps with reducing your food waste because you will be more likely to eat them before they spoil.


Shelf Life


Knowing the shelf life of your veggies and how to properly store them can save you money and reduce food waste. See the link below of most common veggies and how to properly store them.


Bulk and Frozen


Bulk lentils and beans can be purchase for a fraction of the price of canned ones. These are good staples to have on hand. Simply rehydrate them in water before use. Frozen vegetables are also another good option to have on hand. Contrary to what you may have heard, frozen vegetables contain the same benefits as fresh vegetables because they are frozen at peak ripeness. No loss in vitamins and minerals here!



At the end of the day, you are what you eat! Trying slowly integrating these strategies into your normal eating habits. By slowly increasing intakes you will build long-lasting healthy eating habits. The weather is starting to get colder and we are starting to spend more time indoors. This a great opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen and try something new!



Eating Seasonally::



Guelph Family Health Team, Rock What You’ve Got  



Storing Vegetables



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With the global pandemic continuing to cause uncertainties in our food systems, interest in developing stronger and more sustainable local food systems is on the rise. By reducing transportation and preservation needs, local food systems can be better for the environment and more resilient to supply chain disruptions. They also have the potential to increase our sense of connection to the food we eat and they ways it's produced. Guest blogger Sarina Perchak, Land-Based Education Coordinator from White Owl Native Ancestry Association, helps us understand the importance of this idea from an Indigenous point of view.


Indigenous Land-Based Learning:

Nourishing Body and Spirit

By Sarina Perchak


     In many Indigenous teachings and related agreements with the Land, individuals are taught to uphold their part to give life to all life. To support all living things on their respective journeys, to take only what one needs, and to give back to others the gifts that one receives from Mother Earth. These are the very principles that we at Wisahkotewinowak [wisahk-toe-win-no-walk] aim to accomplish in every minute of work that we do. We believe the Land provides a place for community and a sense of belonging. We aim to nurture Land-based relationships to strengthen local food sovereignty and urban Indigenous food environments. We strive to do this work in a good way, upholding our responsibility to All Our Relations.


     We are an urban Indigenous garden collective working in the Waterloo and Wellington regions. Together we are made up of Indigenous and settler ally gardeners, academics, teachers, students, and life-long learners. We pull our strength from the large network of those involved in our work and the passion that burns within the people responsible for our operation. We remind ourselves of this strength when we recount the meaning behind our name: the first green shoots that come up from Mother Earth after a fire has gone through the Land. Just like the tiny shoots that we are proud to emulate, we push through the colonial soil to assert our presence in an ever tumultuous world. We mirror and honour the resiliency of our relations.


A circular urban garden with an x-shaped path cutting through it


     In order to do this, we care for and work in harmony with the Land at four garden locations. We work with our Produce Garden at the University of Waterloo Environmental Reserve that was established in 2019; our Three Sisters Garden at Steckle Heritage Farm in Kitchener that was established in 2017; our Teaching Garden at the Blair Outdoor Education Centre in Cambridge that was established in 2019; and our Tea Garden in the University of Guelph’s Arboretum that was established in 2018. It is with the help of these pieces of Land that we are able to share and grow in the work that we do to uphold our responsibility to support all life in each other, the community and the world around us. Reciprocity is at the heart of these continued interactions.


     Not only do these spaces allow Indigenous peoples to actively learn and be in relation with food and the Land in a safe environment, but they provide valuable foods and medicines for the community members in the Waterloo Region in association with White Owl Native Ancestry Association. Since August 5th we have taken what the gardens have given us and placed them in boxes to give to Indigenous families that have voiced interest in receiving them. In the 15 weeks since that first distribution day, we have been able to give food to 35 different households. This translates to approximately 275 mouths and over one tonne (2200 pounds) of food. Boxes have included turnips, tomatoes, squash varieties, corn, tobacco, onions, sweetgrass, and kale; just to name a few. Now that harvest season is over and all that remains in our gardens is resilient kale, we have begun to source out local foods to purchase for food distributing. Community partners such as the SEED in Guelph and the Golden Hearth Bakery in Kitchener have made this transition as smooth as possible, enabling us to continue our work to fight for food justice and security for Indigenous peoples into the colder months of the year.


An Indigenous community food box filled with various fruits and vegetables from White Owl Native Ancestry


     This is only one side of our food work, however. In addition to building an increased sense of food security for those in our region, our work with the Land and food provision is equally about community-building. Especially in times of limited contact, weekly food distribution and socially-distanced volunteer days in the gardens have been a much needed time of interaction and connection for a spiritually deprived people. Thus, we are not only nourishing bodies in our work but nourishing spirits as well. In fact, one is inherent to the other; you cannot be truly full if your soul is lacking sustenance. We recognize this and work to continually acknowledge food and food work as an immensely important part of our relations. Every day we continue to learn and grow in our work, and continue to strive to live life in a good way that supports all other life. We welcome anyone who shares in this passion.


To learn about volunteer opportunities, join the Wisahkotewinowak newsletter by sending an email to wisahkotewinowak@gmail.com. 


Follow Wisahkotewinowak and White Owl for more information about the educational materials and events they offer:


Wisahkotewinowak Instagram


White Owl Instagram


White Owl Facebook



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Many of you are probably aware that we are facing a climate crisis, but did you know that there’s also a global soil crisis?

Common place agricultural practices remain one of the biggest culprits attributing to the world's soil crisis. These techniques rely heavily on chemicals and physical degradation that further compromises soil health. And as such, the soil loss rate is gradually beginning to exceed the soil’s natural replenishment rate — a widespread concern spanning the world. 


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) this could mean that current soil degradation rates could result in a loss of the world’s topsoil within 60 years — this soil contains invaluable nutrients that plants need in order to survive.


Why should we care?


Well, our food system relies heavily on our soil health. Approximately 95% of the world’s food is sourced from our soil. That’s a lot!

The basis of life depends on soil, and if soil health is poor, agriculture yields greatly decline, making it difficult to feed the growing population.


While it seems like this issue is a never-ending and irreversible one in today's agriculture sector, there's a simple solution called regenerative agriculture. 


So what is regenerative agriculture


This sustainable farming methodology is implemented as a way to ensure soil’s organic matter and biodiversity are restored and preserved to retain the robust-nature of soil for agricultural practices as well as promoting these ecosystems.


     Harvesting in a field that uses cover crops to maintain soil health between main crops  

Photo credit: Heartwood Farm & Cidery



There are a variety of regenerative agriculture practices, some of which include:


  1. Increasing soil fertility and restoration of the microbiome through the implementation of cover crops, compost, animal manure and crop rotations. You can think of this similarly to your gut microbiota. Everyone has a unique group of commensal bacteria that help supply nutrients to your body while also acting as a defense system against pathogenic bacteria. Like the soil microbiome, having a diverse abundance of “good” bacteria maintains the health of the organism they inhabit.
  1. Reduction or elimination of tillage. Tillage disturbs soil aggregates and incorporates oxygen while releasing carbon dioxide. Increasing tillage causes significant soil erosion and carbon emissions into the atmosphere. 
  1. Strategically managed grazing practices can improve plant growth and promote the accumulation of soil carbon deposits. Carbon improves the soil’s water retention abilities, fertility and structure that reduces erosion, ultimately leading to better ground and surface water quality to help advance food security.


By working in conjunction with nature through regenerative agriculture practices, soil biodiversity thrives and enhances agricultural yields to further increase food security globally.



Looking for more resources on regenerative agriculture?


Watch the Kiss the Ground, a documentary on Netflix


Check out this short film by Farmer’s Footprint



World Soil Day is on December 5, 2020, and this year's campaign is “Keep soil alive. Protect soil biodiversity.” Participate in the discussion with your friends and family to raise awareness of the importance of preserving soil ecosystems and how this can have further ripple effects on the world’s food systems. 



Supporting Articles:


  1. Ontl, T. A. & Schulte, L. A. (2012) Soil Carbon Storage. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):35. https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/soil-carbon-storage-84223790/

  2. The Carbon Underground & Regenerative Agriculture Initiative. (2017, February 16). What is Regenerative Agriculture? Regeneration International. https://regenerationinternational.org/2017/02/24/what-is-regenerative-agriculture/
  3. Arsenault, C. (2014, December 5). Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/
  4. Joy, E. (2020, September 24). What Is Regenerative Agriculture And How Can It Reverse Climate Change? Conscious Life & Style. https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/regenerative-agriculture/



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This week we celebrate Ontario's 22nd Agriculture Week! With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is a great opportunity to take a moment to appreciate our hardworking farmers and get in touch with where our food comes from.


A variety of foods produced in Ontario forming a heart for Ontario Agriculture Week


How can you participate?


  • Learn more about agriculture with AgScape's educational resources for elementary (grades 1-8) and secondary (grades 9-12) students, including some Thanksgiving-themed escape rooms


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