The Natural Connection
Connecting community to food and growth.
Maichina Veri, May 31, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioKeith Beveridge and Robyn Haynes of Branching Out Brantford. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
As the climate crisis becomes chaotic and food shortages and prices increase, we need to change the way our community approaches food. What was to be a general interest article on community gardens has become a sharing of progressive ideas on food security, sustainability and community building. We are not separate from our environment, we coexist in it and with it. BTOWN got radical with Branching Out Brantford and Brantford Food Forest Naturally Connected to share freely in ideas about growing food, dependable food sources and community.
Robyn Haynes and Keith Beveridge of Branching Out Brantford have been gardening for 16 years. Among some “cool” flowers, you can find a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in their personal gardens from asparagus to zucchini. One of their goals is to create whole meals from their harvests. “There are so many reasons we garden. We save money. We’re eating local, organic, zero food mile food that we grow ourselves. You get the pride of growing it, the pride of eating complete meals out of the garden. The amazement that you can do that! It does reduce our dependence on corporations and farming overseas. We have a food supply that boggles the mind,” says Keith. The couple mentions how they’ve inspired others to start their own gardens, and how sharing produce among neighbours in the community is growing along with the number of gardens.
A perfect day to spend in the garden with Robyn. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
Rachael Sawczuk, lead facilitator of Brantford Food Forest Naturally Connected, draws a clear line between gardens and food forests by illustrating the differences. “We’re not a garden, we’re building a forest. We’re building all the layers of a forest as a bigger ecosystem,” says Rachael. “The overstory, understory – the different types of canopy we have – the bush/shrub layer and the herbaceous ground cover. Those all mimic the same kind of style that would be along the water, or in a woodland forest.” Though gardens and forests are separate, Rachael’s feelings on the importance of the food forest aligns with Robyn and Keith’s visions of gardens. “It really is important to work together to get bigger things accomplished. With climate change and all the issues that we’re having, there is definitely going to be food issues in our future.” Rachael goes on to say, “I definitely love all the food spaces that are helping people who are food insecure get food. But I feel like there is a little lacking with being able to get unlimited healthy food, even in the capacity of organic.”
"It comes as no surprise that all three would like to see more green spaces in Brantford, and all are specific in their visions. Rachael stresses "natural" environmental spaces over manicured grounds. Robyn excitedly talks about boulevard fruit trees, and Keith emphasizes getting a control over food supply."
It comes as no surprise that all three would like to see more green spaces in Brantford, and all are specific in their visions. Rachael stresses “natural” environmental spaces over manicured grounds. Robyn excitedly talks about boulevard fruit trees, and Keith emphasizes getting a control over food supply. Robyn offers the idea of gardening in educational facilities as well. “Schools have green spaces. Kids can learn about gardening and where food comes from, and be a part of that. My daughter loves getting in the dirt, planting seeds, learning – and then eating it is like, ‘Wow! This is so cool!’ I think more kids would be interested in gardening if it were at school.”
A beautiful vertical garden. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
While Brantford Food Forest Naturally Connected and Branching Out Brantford have similar ideas, their explicit goals are slightly different. Branching Out Brantford’s mission is in fruit rescue and sharing the bounty of unused fruit bearing plants in the city. Brantford Food Forest Naturally Connected hopes to achieve, among other things, an interconnectedness with people and the environment. “Permaculture aligns with the idea that we’re all equal – nature, animals, everything – and we should all be on an equal level,” underlines Rachael.
Neither Branching Out Brantford nor Brantford Food Forest Naturally Connected could exist without support from the community. Robyn, Keith and Rachael all speak to how important and awesome it is to work within the community and alongside neighbours to share in the growth of gardens and the food forest. If you’re interested in helping out these amazing folks in their endeavours to grow and share fresh, local and organic food and support sustainable and community-minded growing practices, you can reach them on Facebook.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maichina Veri is a writer based in Brantford, Ontario. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Montreal’s Concordia University and has a background in Journalism – Print from Niagara College.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Paul Smith has been shooting photos professional for the past eleven years. After graduating from Applied Photography at Sheridan College in 2008 he returned to Brantford and opened Photohouse Studios with his partner.