End food poverty by re-educating a community to harvest free & healthy food resources one garden at a time!

by Renee Lindstrom, GCFP

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Edible & Not Edible (Can you see the plastic forks)

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Edible & Not Edible (Can you see the plastic forks)

For educational purposes I have began putting out plastic forks, to represent the plants in my garden that are edible, and little not edible signs beside those that are not edible.  My hope is that those walking by may begin to notice and become curious about the weeds, flowers, plants and trees around them that they can consume free of charge, increasing their health and decreasing their grocery bill. Another hope I have is to encourage my students and clients to become more aware of their environment.  It is imperative to good health for one to become present in their surroundings.

In the Greater Victoria Communities mental illness and homelessness is increasing and there is an ever growing demand for food. Greater Victoria businesses, grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants and individuals are charitable and there are many donations of financial resources, money and time towards events.  Many contribute to the calls for support.

Two years ago I hosted an event to contribute to a society where I put a call out for can goods to create a labyrinth at our local Victoria City Hall.  The purpose was to build a labyrinth for walking to reflect upon homelessness and the needs of our community.  The event was a success and the labyrinth was built and walked on World Peace Day.  However in the process of creating this event what I discovered was many people, who have good intentions, fall victim to competition, conflict and verbal violence.  The type Gandhi labelled insidious.  Charitable organizations did not want to appear to support other groups, even in the most indirect way.  This was baffling to me as they do the exact same work with this demographic in the community and possibly work with the same individuals on the street.  Individuals came forward as leaders,  however it seemed their need was for recognition as pioneers and  their own achievements without putting effort into the current project.   Then there were those that came to the event itself last minute and demonstrated their knowing of how it should be done and when letting them take over the result and experience was confusion.  As it was more than one stepping forward as last minute leaders there was conflict among them.

The great thing I learned was from the mentally challenged and homeless community itself.  Their behavior and interaction was a model I felt others could learn from.  They were humble, polite and grateful and the ones who appeared and helped behind the scenes to set up and tear down the labyrinth without any conflict. They put up signs and helped in ways that others did not.  In conversation over this event they shared their longing.  They said what they really wanted was for these types of events to be directly engaged with them in the present.  The food we gathered was destined for an organization to distribute it. Their request was that future events like this be set up so that they could come and take the food with them right after the event.  A few top supporters during the event did take some food with them and it was obvious that they only took what they needed and demonstrated a desire to leave food for others.

Since then a consideration for me has been a question about the value and  type of effort that is going into feeding a homeless community and it’s long term results.  Is it a long term solution or a band aid trying to stem the flow?  A very important person who influenced my life,   Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, once told story in one of our training’s.  It went like this:

There was once a man walking along a river when a baby came floating by.  He jumped in and pulled the baby to safety.  Then we saw two more floating towards him so he pulled them to safety.  Then three came floating by…….  The number of babies kept growing until Marshall asked us the question; “Do you want to save the babies or do you want to walk up the river and see who is throwing the babies in?”

Exploring the number of edible weeds, flowers, plants and trees in my own neighourhood and their herbal and medicinal benefits, I am left asking why these are not being harvested as a food source.  Is it a lack of education?  Is there a need for re-educating people to connect to what is growing abundantly in their own surroundings.  It was inherent in our culture and we have forgotten it.

So I ask you to start looking at your own landscape and explore how you can creatively add to educating even one person at a time as they walk by.  Point out in your own way what plants you can and cannot eat.  Plants that you use for making tea’s, medicines and dyes.


Traditional uses and properties of herbs are for educational purposes only.  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  Every attempt has been made for accuracy, but none is guaranteed. Any serious health concerns or if you are pregnant, you should always check with your health care practitioner before self-administering herbs.

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