“I picked that spinach today,” a client of The Mustard Seed said proudly to others sharing an evening meal at the Edmonton, Alta., service hub for people experiencing poverty and homelessness. Jeremiah Basuric, the agency’s community engagement coordinator, recalled the moment, describing how participation in community agriculture has helped The Mustard Seed “in its mission to build community, grow hope, and support change in and with people living in poverty and homelessness.”
“I cannot count the number of times community participants name the peace of God washing over them as they reconnect to God's creation found at Lady Flower Gardens,” said Basuric, a commissioned pastor with the Christian Reformed Church.
Lady Flower Gardens is a small farm close to the North Saskatchewan River in northeast Edmonton, with shared access to 75 acres of old-growth forest. The land is stewarded by Doug Visser, member of Edmonton’s Fellowship CRC, and his partner Kelly Mills, who established Lady Flower Gardens eight years ago as a not-for-profit offshoot of Riverbend Gardens—land originally owned by Visser’s parents, Jennie and Clarence Visser. Every year Visser and Mills grant free access to the land to several Edmonton agencies that support mental health and wellness for people living with disadvantages in the city. The Mustard Seed has been involved since the beginning.
The gardens offer more than an opportunity for these individuals to plant, weed, water, and harvest. At its heart, Lady Flower Gardens is really about community building—forming a connection to the land and to one another while supporting mental and nutritional wellbeing. In an interview last year with the Edmonton Journal, Mills explained, “If you start with the vulnerable and design a community with them in mind first and foremost and put them in a position where they are valued and their contributions are also honored, you’re going to have a healthy community.”
Basuric, a graduate of The King’s University, where he also obtained a Micah Certificate in Justice and Development, said of the gardener who picked the spinach, “In that moment, he was reminded that he was a loved child of God who bore God's image. He was reminded of his dignity.”
Mills credits the influence of the elder Vissers and programs at King’s. “Clarence and Jennie were huge supporters of The Micah Centre and the type of social justice taught there and practiced at The Mustard Seed. And Doug was raised in a household where dinner conversations revolved around social justice and real actions in the community (that) were guided by the concept of social justice.” Lady Flower Gardens is in part supported by work of student interns from King's, especially students in the process of obtaining a Micah Certificate.
One of those students is recent graduate Kaleigh Greidanus, who spent her summer volunteering there. “The Lady Flower Garden community is something really special. It is a supportive, respectful, inclusive, and refreshing environment that empowers its members and provides opportunities for experiential learning. I am extremely thankful for the relationships I was able to build this summer with the Lady Flower Gardens staff and the member agencies. This experience has shown me the power of relationships in promoting healing—both the relationships between individuals and to the land.”