OHSWEKEN – Corn, beans and squash are commonly known in our traditions as the Three Sisters. It is said that these three food gifts were given by the Creator to ensure the Haudenosaunee would always have a nutritionally complete diet on which they could thrive, which is why it is also commonly referred to as ‘Our Sustenance.’
Borrowing the same name is a community-based organization driven by a dedicated group of staff and volunteers. The Our Sustenance Program is made up of a market, greenhouse, community garden and Good Food Box program.
Formed in 2011, the program’s original mandate was to provide a source of fresh food to local residents, but it has evolved to include access and education. One of the major concerns of the organization is food security on Six Nations. “Food security in this community is not present for everyone. There’s food insecurity in that we have such a highly used food bank. That tells us that there are people without [proper food],” says Program Coordinator Adrianne Lickers, “When our numbers are as high as they are in the welfare system, we know that those families don’t get enough to actually create sufficient caloric intake in their community. We can offset these issues by very simply having a garden.”
Lickers refers to the Six Nations Community Garden, which the organization runs every year with the help of community members. Located behind Sunrise Court in Ohsweken, the four-acre plot donated by Greg Hill of Hill’s Tires offers food for anyone willing to visit and harvest it, no questions asked.
“People will often say, ‘I feel like I didn’t do enough to deserve the food.’ Everyone deserves to eat. Everyone. And if the food is there, everyone has the opportunity,” Lickers says. Though the food is free to harvest, community members are also welcome to take part in the maintenance and care of the garden. During weekday mornings, Our Sustenance will have staff at the garden for maintenance work, to share knowledge and introduce curious members of the public to the garden.
Actively participating in the process has a host of benefits. In the Guelph-based publication Re-imagining: Reigning in the New Skool, Lickers writes that growing their own food is inspiring children to think differently about what they eat. “When you teach a young child to pay attention to what they eat, and where it comes from, they begin to ask that about all the food they eat. Our culture is integral to that.” Culture, community and friendship are core values in Our Sustenance’s work. A visit to the greenhouse or garden sees volunteers and visitors from all ages and backgrounds, all of them coming together with a common purpose. For them, feeding their families and friends also gives way to feeding their spirit. Laughter, knowledge sharing, and storytelling – all of these things happen naturally when volunteers work side by side at the garden. It’s the spirit of sharing combined with gardening knowledge that can lead to a food secure future for Six Nations,
Lickers says. “As a community, if we could truly say that we have food security, we would know that if I have enough food and my neighbour is struggling a bit, anything extra I have can go to them.
That’s food security here to us.” The community garden will be planted this year on June 6. To get involved or to donate supplies, you can reach Our Sustenance at 519-445-2011, or visit their office and greenhouse at 2676 Fourth Line Rd.