Raven Hart, an Indigenous Youth Mentor with Marymound’s Cultural Program, focuses on a land-based program that is heavily involved with the food and herb gardens located at Marymound’s main Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) location and some of its group homes.
Since joining the organization over a year ago, Hart was initially pleased to notice the existing garden near Marymound’s main building. “When I first arrived here all the vegetables were already in full bloom, but I was most excited that we were growing our own tobacco,” said Hart. “Through our cultural program, tobacco is one of the most amazing attributes we could grow because it is chemical-free with no toxins – just clean, traditional tobacco.
The tobacco is so good that visiting Elders get very excited when it is gifted to them for their knowledge. “The Elders are so amazed that we can grow our own tobacco and food, and they are wowed when receiving the fresh-cut tobacco from our garden,” said Hart.
Since her arrival, they have added some superfoods to the garden (everything from kale to spinach to beets), as well as a variety of vegetables that the kids have never seen before, such as Indigo Kumquat tomatoes.
“We want to make food fun, especially for the younger kids so they get more involved and are encouraged to learn more about traditional foods, and assist with the gardens,” continues Hart. Tomatillos and Yellowstone carrots, which are bright yellow instead of orange, pique the kids’ interest.
Other important Indigenous components of the garden include traditional medicines. “We have two different types of medicinal tea gardens, one here at the main garden and one across the property, as well as another at the boys’ group home that features numerous varieties of mint-chocolate, banana, grapefruit and spearmint,” said Hart. “Food is medicine, so we want to drink teas that will help the kids. We also have chamomiles and lavenders. We are also growing corn, beans and squash, known as ‘the three sisters’ which are aligned next to one another as they seem to survive off each other, like their own ecosystem.”
There is also a medicine garden consisting of tobacco, cedar, sweetgrass and sage. “They are used primarily for smudges to cleanse ourselves, which is really exciting.”
Marymound’s gardens are thriving. One harvest occurred early on the summer solstice with full amounts of kale, spinach, radishes and two different varieties of lettuce being served up in salads for the week at Marymound. “We also harvested sage that was three feet high, which is difficult to find anywhere,” proclaimed Hart. “The reason why the garden is thriving is because we feasted it with a pipe ceremony two times before planting, and included an additional ceremony for the water to ensure purity through prayer.”
Marymound recently started a second medicine garden, an exciting circle garden design within an existing roundabout created by Reanna Merasty, a Land-Based Youth Mentor summer student. “It is sectioned into the four directions with decorative paths to access the garden that also consists of tobacco, sage, cedar and sweetgrass,” said Merasty.
“Symbolism of the four directions will be added to include rocks that will be painted with warriors and each direction on them,”added Hart. “Seven each of red, black, yellow and white rocks will decoratively be on display to indicate inclusiveness for all ceremonies.”
The gardens at Marymound are common and just a way of life for Indigenous people. It is a way of working the land and developing self-sustaining communities. “It is difficult for many of our communities, as the land and soil are not good enough, so they look into greenhouses,” said Hart. “What we are doing at Marymound is innovative yet traditional, as we are bringing back the old way of doing things.”
The youth involvement in the garden has grown this past year, whether it’s watering or weeding, or the little ones enjoying a “planting party” to start the gardening season. Sometimes, students just hang out with the Youth Mentors at the garden as they work and snack on healthy foods, such as radishes, tomatoes, raspberries, blueberries, red currants and Saskatoons.
Marymound even hired a youth for the land-based program – someone who loves gardening and working the soil.
“In the future, I would like to see the kids eat as traditional as possible within our menu at Marymound, at feasts and different celebrations that we have throughout the year by using the foods we grow on site, as well as accessing traditional foods from the community, such as wild rice and Saskatoons. And of course bannock and fried bannock, which is not the greatest for the body but a comfort food that is so good for the soul,” said Hart.
Raven Hart is a former Indigenous Youth Mentor for the Marymound Cultural Program. Filling the role now is April Slater.