PACT URBAN PEACE PROGRAM, TORONTO

Healthy Communities are Like Gardens

by David Lockett,

(adapted from David’s original article at PO1.com)

The sign at the David Wilson Memorial Garden went up in late 2013 marking its official completion. To the outside eye this may seem trivial, but to myself and all of the incredible people who have worked so hard in the garden over the past few years, it’s the cherry on top of a well-deserved sundae.

Just more than two years ago, at the outset of this gargantuan project, the grounds of the John Polyani School – located in Lawrence West, were desolate. A rarely used concrete pad intended for track and field dominated the space. Patches of concrete, rocks and a chain link fence greeted the students every morning.

“Patches of concrete, rocks and a chain link fence greeted the students every morning.”

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Oh, how things have changed.

In September 2013, when students arrived for their first day of school they saw 30,000 square feet of lush garden, on the precipice of delivering a bountiful harvest. The unsightly chain link fences have been up-cycled and are now home to The Great Bean Project – they are now brimming with life.  A pollinator and butterfly garden was designed to aid teachers and help these magnificent creatures whose environments we are destroying. Tables, benches and gazebos are scattered throughout this urban oasis, to give students space to reflect, work or just hang out amongst nature. To think of how far this space has come is enough to blow your mind.

It has often been said that hindsight is 20/20. Upon the completion of this project I can tell you that this adage holds true.  In reflecting on all that has transpired, the ups and the downs that we have faced, one thing is abundantly clear:  polanyi1 pizza

The David Wilson Memorial Garden’s success all stemmed from the preparation, backed up with action. We took a seemingly inhospitable environment, tore up concrete, solarized and fertilized the soil, weeded, prepped, and then planted our seeds. We nurtured these young seedlings, providing them with all the sustenance they needed at the outset, and clearly we have reaped the benefits of our early planning, efforts, and preparation. If we had not put so much effort into creating a safe, wholesome environment for these seeds, if we had not nurtured their development in their all-important formative time, we would not have the incredible results we see today.

Thinking about all of this reminded me of my own kids, and how remarkably similar – I’ll be it much less challenging – growing a garden is to raising children. My wife and I spent time saving, creating a home, a safe environment to bring life into the world. We fed our children only the best foods, read to them, engaged them, sent them to the best schools. We entrusted them to experts in early childhood education, and teachers who worked so tirelessly to ensure they had the best shot in life. And then we stood back and let them grow. Stopping occasionally to correct their paths – pull out the weeds you might say.  My kids aren’t really kids anymore, they are in fact adults, and when I look back at their upbringing I can see that any measure of success they achieve will be standing firmly on the foundation that was created for them, all of the work that went into their formative years.

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My kids are remarkably lucky, not just to have parents who love them, but to have been born in Canada, and to have been born into privilege. They won the lottery – the same lottery I won almost 60 years ago. This is something that through my work with The PACT Program that has become evermore clear. What has also become clear is that although we in Canada are far more progressive, and aware of the need for early childhood education, we still do not do enough. We as a society are only as strong as our weakest, and most vulnerable members, and we collectively have to take responsibility for one and other. It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child, so we the Canadian village need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for our children. We need to put in the hard work at the outset, so that we can reap the benefits of their abundance in the end.

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