Urban Agriculture Takes Root - Connecting Culture, Enhancing Livelihoods

Indigenous cultures have always moved in harmony with the rhythms of nature, developing a symbiotic relationship with the landscape that feeds their physical, cultural and spiritual needs while respecting mother earth.

In the last few centuries, this deep connection to nature and traditional relationships with its cycles have been challenged, minimized and sometimes fully severed for a great number of Indigenous people. Increasing global urbanization, the dawn of the digital age, and increased automation have moved all of us further away from our land, our food and even other people. Coming full circle today, these Indigenous traditions hold a vast potential to improve our health and well-being across Canada, especially in urban settlements where this disconnection is most prominent.

Urban agriculture, as HTFC Planning & Design’s Monica Giesbrecht and Trent Workman discussed with Feast Café Bistro’s Christa Bruneau-Guenther, is a way to reconnect Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with their culture and in supporting their city life — encouraging backyard growing, procuring, and preserving of food.

Born in Romania to a family with farming and engineering roots, Giesbrecht was drawn to landscape architecture as a perfect melding of design, technology and soul. Through her work at HTFC, she advocates for inclusive design and places that energize and welcome users of all backgrounds, ages, and abilities. Her research of the social, physical and psychological impacts of human environments on children and youth, immigrants and marginalized groups, aging and physically impaired, serves as a foundation for her work on healthy communities, urban revitalization, public and private parks, and culturally sensitive lands.

Workman, a University of Manitoba landscape architecture graduate, has served as a landscape planner at HTFC for four years. Born in Reston, and raised in Brandon, Workman grew up surrounded by agriculture, an upbringing that formed his interest in regional planning and in addressing large-scale landscape issues. Workman’s work often takes him north where he learns from people who are inextricably connected to the land in places such as Peguis First Nation, Cross Lake, Norway House and Nunavut.

Bruneau-Guenther, a member of Peguis First Nation, opened Feast in Winnipeg’s West End in 2016. Born in the North End, Bruneau-Guenther has a heart for people and the community. She contends urban agriculture can help connect Indigenous people to their culture, build relationships, and bring elders, youth, and the community together. The restaurateur’s kitchen at Feast Bistro is open, affordable and inviting, providing Indigenous people from the community with an opportunity to prepare and learn more about their food and culture.

On a hot summer day in Bruneau-Guenther’s backyard, the trio shared ideas around the full life cycle of urban agriculture, the role of municipal policies in supporting healthy cities, and the wide array of garden-to-table resources needed to create a sustainable food culture in cities.

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