Community Building through Eco Education

C&G Interview with Links for Greener Learning

I originally met Yaneth through my work at the Folk Arts Multicultural Centre. While actively trying to include environmental education into programming for newcomers to Canada. Since then Yaneth and I have collaborated in community gardens, environmental workshops for newcomers and more recently I have become a board member for her organization Links for Greener Learning. This opportunity allows me to see first hand her passion and work in the community when it comes to sustainability and education here in the Niagara Region.

Originally from Colombia, Yaneth immigrated with her family to Niagara to start a new life as many Canadians have before her. Leaving her previous career as a lawyer behind Yaneth has worked vigorous to create what has now become a well recognized environmental education organization in Niagara. I am happy to share part of her journey and shine some light on someone who is creating a positive impact in this place that we call home.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came up with the concept of Links for Greener Learning? When you look at Links for Greener Learning today is this how you imagined it would look when you originally started?
I am lawyer from Colombia and during my time there I worked for a regional environmental organization for more than 8 years. When I got here I noticed that the laws and regulations were different in my country and other countries; and here I noticed many programs about recycling and composting that we do not have in Colombia . So I decided that I would like to teach newcomers about these initiatives because I believe that we need to help preserve our environment for future generations. My goal for LGL in the Niagara Region is to be a lead in environmental education. I want to inspire youth, adults and seniors to take actions that can help to keep our environment healthy.
Community Garden Group, St. Catharines
Community Garden Group, St. Catharines

2. What kind of response and support have you received from the community about programs such as your Community Gardens and Women’s Eco Arts Programs?

The community plays the most important role in any project so far and the response from the community has been great. So far we have received support from different agencies, people in the community, government agencies and the City of St. Catharines.

Can you tell us a little about each program and your experience so far working in the community?

Our staff works with ESL schools, multicultural centres and other organizations in Niagara and throughout the community, delivering interactive learning experiences that we hope inspire newcomers such as youth, adults and seniors to take actions that make a difference and keep our environment healthy for our future generations. So far we have reached over 800 newcomers in our waste education programs, we have over 50 families involved in the community gardens, and 12 women in our eco-chic project who are making new items from recycled materials and making a small income from the products sell at the Farmers Market every Thursday. We also have 18 youth students working in a reforestation project at Martindale Pond.

Kids building a garden at their school in St. Catharines
Kids building a garden at their school in St. Catharines

3. Why do you feel that this type of work is important and more specifically what is the importance of work like this in the Niagara Region?

This work is so important because the more people are aware about these environmental practices the more we can move forward to environmental sustainability in the Region.

Women work on their crafts using recyced materials for the Eco Arts program
Women work on their crafts using recyced materials for the Eco Arts program

4. Do you have any new projects or programs that Links for Greener Learning will be starting in the near future?
Yes, we would like to start a waste reduction program in the schools, build 3 more community garden that are going to serve the community in Welland, Niagara Falls and Fort Erie. These gardens will be an easy access to new Canadians and the help them to grow their own food and keep their traditional recipes and a healthy life style.

Group working at the community garden
Group working at the community garden

5. Overall how does the organization come up with the concepts behind the programs and services it offers?

Niagara Region has different organizations creating unique programs for the community; However one of our main focuses is to  to create programs that directly impact new Canadians. We hope to continue provide opportunities for newcomers to learn about  environmental issues such as waste reduction, energy and water conservation. Our main goal is to make these environmental concepts accessible to everyone in our community and this is what drives LGL.

Canning workshop
Canning workshop

6. Where do you see Links for Greener Learning in the next 5 years, what are some of your hopes for the organization and its impact on Niagara?

In the next 5 years I would like to be a lead in environmental education and inspire to the community to take actions that help our Niagara Region to be sustainable. Helping the community to think green and change their habits is one of the most important goals.

Young gardeners at the Welland Harvest Garden located at Niagara College
Young gardeners at the Welland Harvest Garden located at Niagara College

 

For more information on links for Greener Learning and to learn how to get involved in your community visit their website at http://www.linksforgreenerlearning.org/

  • Photos provided by Yaneth at Links for Greener Learning

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Interview with an Heirloom Vegetable Farmer

It was in my friends’ kitchen in Wainfleet where I was first introduced to an heirloom tomato, it was a giant green zebra tomato to be exact. I clearly remember how unique it was to me; juicy, with light green stripes and a flavor new to my palette. At the time I was unaware that it was an “heirloom” tomato or that it was called a zebra tomato I just knew it was different, and delicious, and I wanted more.

Around that time I had just recently begun saving my own seeds and after that dinner I couldn’t help but take a few seeds home to try my luck with them; Shortly after that night I  booked a flight to go back to Venezuela to be with my husband and I was eager to try our luck at planting the seeds there.
Once I was in Venezuela it was through some online research that I was able to find the source of the seeds. They were from Tree and Twig Farm; a farm specializing in heirloom vegetables located close to my friends home, in the town of Wellandport to be exact.

While down south we had great success with our green zebra seeds and enjoyed sharing the lovely green tomatoes with friends and family; and since that time we have returned back to Niagara and continue to grow our own small vegetable garden to share with those close to us.

I knew that upon our return I wanted to connect with Tree and Twig, so that I did. Being back in Niagara I was fortunate to attend a seeding workshop on the Tree and Twig Farm. It was here  where I absorbed an enormous amount of new knowledge about growing and also went home with an awesome new selection of heirloom varieties. Since that first green zebra tomato my love of heirlooms has continue to flourish and I owe much of that to Tree and Twig.

We are greatly inspired by Tree and Twigs outreach in the community at events such as Veg Fest and their educational workshops that they run on the farm. It is for this reason and many others that we reached out to find out more about Linda’s work and passion.

Q & A with Tree and Twig Farm

Heirloom Tomatoes from Tree & Twig Farm
Heirloom Tomatoes from Tree & Twig Farm
  1. Could you explain to us a little about your background and how it has brought you to your current work with Tree and Twig? When were you first introduced to the concept of farming and more specifically growing heirlooms?
    I grew up on a farm in Flamborough-north of here and now considered to fall within the limits of the City of Hamilton. I loved it. My parents were very hard workers. They were both teachers, but also farmers. I drew inspiration from both of them and still do even though they have passed on.
    My mom had very large veg gardens and we sold asparagus and raspberries at a roadside stand along HWY 6. She grew all kinds of things  45 years ago that people consider unusual…tomatillos, ground cherries, Brandywine tomatoes, etc. Heirlooms are very familiar to me, I grew up with them.
    When my parents felt it was time to sell the farm, it tore out my heart but I understood. I remember standing in the fields for the last time and knowing that I needed to get in the country. At the time I was a social worker and had a home in Welland. I knew that was not what I was meant to do.

    Tree & Twig Greenhouse
    Tree & Twig Greenhouse
  1. How important do you feel your location(The Niagara Region) is to your current work with Tree & Twig? How do you feel the community has welcomed the idea of heirloom vegetables?
    I am happy to be in Niagara, but sometimes wish my soil was a bit easier to work-I have clay based soil, but have worked hard over the years to improve it.
    When I began doing this 18 years ago, organic and heirloom were a hard sell.  We’ve come a long way. I can see that in terms of the increasing interest in CSA’s in Niagara and the relative abundance of them now in the area. I was the only one for many years. I can also see it with regards to my seedling and seed sales and the great interest in Seedy Saturday events. It is fantastic that people are interesting in gardening more and in growing these vegetables in their own gardens. And of course in saving seed and passing it along.

    Heirloom Tomatoes from Tree & Twig Farm
    Heirloom Tomatoes from Tree & Twig Farm
  1. We are aware that your run workshops such Sowing Seeds and Growing Unusual Edibles, when did you begin to do this type of outreach and why?
    I have been offering the workshops for about 4 years I believe. I began to do them because people had so many questions about how to grow their own food. It seemed like a natural thing to do. The workshops have been very popular so I guess I was right.  I really enjoy leading them and have met some wonderful people doing so, some inspirational people.

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    Heirloom Tomatoes from Tree & Twig Farm
  1. What would be your biggest tips for first time vegetable gardeners that you wish someone had told you? Do you have any specific tips for those who wish to grow heirlooms?
    My biggest tip for beginner gardeners would be to just do it, but do it small. Many people are intimidated by the thought of gardening and back off before they even begin. But start small to get a good feel for what you can handle.
    Seeds are meant to grow and they will, sometimes even in challenging circumstances. I also think that it is a good idea to read a good gardening book for some tips…but you will learn so much just by doing. You will become the expert in your own garden, which is as it should be.
    Growing heirlooms opens you up to a whole new world of tastes, colours, sizes and shapes. It is exciting! And saving your own seed from your garden gives you a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. But heirlooms may not be as disease resistant as some hybrids which are sometimes bred to have particular resistance to disease. This I find is especially true with tomatoes and cucurbits. But this drawback pales in comparison to the benefits of growing (and eating!) heirlooms.

    Seedlings at Tree and Twig Farm
    Seedlings at Tree and Twig Farm
  1. I know that farming and gardening is a constant learning and “growing” process so do you have any new and exciting projects you would like to share with us?
    I am still contemplating my plans for 2016. I am looking at scaling a few things back. I will still offer the spring workshops and anticipate organizing another Seedy Saturday event. The spring seedling sales have become the biggest part of my business and will carry on for many more years. But I am constantly considering how to free up a bit more time for my family, friends, myself and other interests that I have. It is exciting for me to think about how my business will look in 2016…there will be some minor changes.

Thank-you Linda for your time we wish you & Tree and Twig all the best,

Miguel & Amber

 

For more information about Tree and Twig you can check out their Website, Twitter and Facebook