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2022 Greener Greenspace Profile

Indigenous Food Plant Demonstration Garden

Located in Summerland, British Columbia, the Indigenous Food Plant Demonstration Garden, on the grounds of the Summerland Research and Development Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), is a garden revitalizing local indigenous food plants and land management practices.

Design and Process 

Created in 2021 by Indigenous students Dana Johnson and Kyle Clarke under the guidance of the project’s lead scientist Dr. Medhi Sharifi, the garden is designed to establish native plant species for harvesting, learning, and connecting with Indigenous food plants. The garden is approximately 600 square feet, and is planted to support the highest density and diversity for the space. 

Part of the goal for the Indigenous Food Plant Garden is to provide habitat for surrounding native species as industrialization and development continue to cause loss of native habitat throughout the Okanagan Valley. The garden is a wildlife refuge; native plant guilds provide proper nutrients, breeding sites, and habitats for native birds, insects, and mammals. Multiple plant regimes generate numerous ecosystem types to support greater biodiversity. Since the garden was established, there has been a noticeable increase in pollinators, black widows, rattlesnakes, coyotes, bears, hawks and other birds.

Annual precipitation in the Okanagan is expected to decline over time. Therefore native drought-resistant plants were selected that can handle drier conditions. The plants will require no added water or fertilizers once established. Instead, the plants will fertilize the soils and retain more water as a characteristic of their life history adaptations to the dry environment. It is expected that the garden will continue to provide food for native species and local communities well into the future without constant input. 

Community Collaboration

The Indigenous Food Plant Demonstration Garden illustrates what role government research stations can play in revitalizing local Indigenous ecosystems and land management systems. The demonstration garden is a research site to study the impacts of climate change on plants, as well as a site for community learning and engagement. The long-term goal is to be able to regularly harvest from the site, primarily fruits, as well as medicines, and to share knowledge about the benefits of permaculture and Indigenous-led stewardship of forest gardens. 

The demonstration garden supports the Okanagan Region’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy. The project is also a model for the twenty Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) stations across the country to preserve and promote food plants significant to their region's First Nations. 

Although the demonstration garden is a relatively small area of land for restoration and reconciliation, the hope is that the site resonates with people and inspires them to focus on how they can decolonize their surroundings and promote Indigenous-led land management strategies in their communities. This project demonstrates when opportunities for hiring students, commissioning art, and harvesting from the site become available, the involvement of Indigenous youth, knowledge keepers, and local community members must be prioritized. The aim is to inspire similar welcoming, safe and accessible demonstration gardens across Canada rooted in local cultural and biological relevance. 

For more information about the garden, check out this CBC article.

Watch the presentation on the garden, which was Episode 14 of the 2023 Ecological Land Care Webinar Series. 

 Photos c/o Indigenous Food Plant Demonstration Garden

Greener Greenspaces is a recognition program for sites from across Canada that exemplify greener greenspace stewardship. The aim of the program is to showcase examples of ecologically-focused land care as a means to inspire others and to further the movement across Canada.

See the full list of 2022 recognition recipients here

Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care (SOUL)
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