Youth Empowerment Support Services invites Edmontonians to celebrate the success of its community garden with some spooky festivities on Halloween.
This summer, YESS got permission to turn a vacant city-owned lot into a temporary community garden. The project, called Urban Roots, was a way for the non-profit organization, which provides resources and shelter to homeless youth, to try its hand at social enterprise — planting, harvesting, and canning produce grown in the garden.
The idea had been in the works for a couple of years, but was made all the more pressing last year when an influx of Fort McMurray fire refugees depleted the food bank reserves, and YESS donations went dry.
"It became really clear last year that food security is something we have to pay attention to, because we don’t have control over the donations," says Margo Long, executive director of YESS.
The garden is meant to supplement the donations upon which the non-profit relies, especially with fresh vegetables, which are hard to come by.
Not only has the project improved the quality of meals enjoyed by kids and staff this summer — with two salads served each day — but it will also continue to do so throughout the winter, as much of the produce has been preserved into jams, sauces and pickled veggies.
A wrap-up event, featuring a haunted garden and trick or treating, will be held on Oct. 31, before YESS hands back the land to the city for potential development.
Located across the street from YESS, on the corner of 93 Street and 82 Avenue, the lot was an ideal location for the garden, and the organization is sad it won't get to continue the project next year. Though YESS could recreate the project on a smaller scale within its existing space, Long said that would defeat the second goal of the garden: providing a space for YESS youth to interact with the community at large.
“One of our focuses is trying to decriminalize poverty, addiction, mental illness and homelessness. These kids didn’t choose to be where they are,” says Long.
Originally, she envisioned older community members teaching youth how to hoe or tend to plants. While this didn't exactly pan out — the kids were more interested in the garden as a space to read and hang out — Long says it at least helped create a space where the two groups co-existed.
On a typical day, says Long, youth could be seen reading or playing music, while a community member watered the plants and a couple toured the garden.
“One hundred per cent of our kids experience trauma, from abandonment to abuse," says Long. “Part of healing for trauma or depression is removing isolation and having relationships with other people.”
Long hopes Bonnie Doon residents and the larger Edmonton community will attend Tuesday's Halloween party, which is being entirely organized by YESS youth. The haunted garden will be open from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and YESS youth will be handing out candy.