ATIKOKAN -- Youth centre in Atikokan providing youth with a hands-on experience in vegetable growing.
The Atikokan Youth Initiatives Centre has been running their community garden, located off of Mackenzie Avenue and right near downtown, right on a peninsula on the Atikokan River, for the past six years.
The gardens are comprised of three large garden beds and 12 little beds.
The project started with a few little gardens around the youth centre building growing various vegetables including beans, tomatoes, zucchini, squash and potatoes. Many of the youth involve had never seen vegetables grown in person before. The youth centre wanted to make the connection between growing food and the food found in stores.
“We had pulled up the potatoes and that was the first time the kids had seen how they grow,” says the Atikokan Youth Centre coordinator Eva Shields. “They didn’t know that the lettuce and spinach we grew was the same as what they buy.”
Since then, food education became a very important part of what the youth centre strives to promote. Using the food grown in the gardens, the centre is helping prepare the youth for adulthood. They have crock pots and pizza pans that were funded, which they use to teach cooking techniques and recipes.
Every Tuesday and Thursday they host hot lunches and always have healthy snacks available to help expose the youth to foods they may not otherwise have been exposed to.
“The kids are happy to be involved, it’s a process but it’s so important,” says Shields.
Each garden is dedicated to growing various vegetables and perennial fruits. The centre uses the gardens to promote food security and teaching. The community gardens project is a volunteer based, charitable non-profit initiative, so everything harvested is given back to members of the community.
This year’s excessive rains, the gardens have been impacted by serious flooding. The youth centre has been hard at work making repairs so the gardens will be back in shape by next year.
Due to the flooding the gardens have been temporarily filled with raspberries, strawberries and potatoes that had been donated by local community members.
Before COVID, the youth centre employed summer students to maintain the gardens, however they haven’t been able to offer the positions. Currently, the gardens are maintained by volunteers, the gardens are maintained by volunteers with money from donations.
The centre hopes to be able to bring out the garden chairs, and restore the damage from the flooding soon so that people can come back out and enjoy the space again.
“People can visit and use it as a restful space; it is quite beautiful there,” says Shields.