I love community. This thing I love is a changing, growing, often hard to define relationship among people. For me, community is that feeling of support, reciprocity and accountability created when a group of people of whatever size comes together, engages with each other, and creates something.  And the thing that is created can be anything from a neighbourhood garden to a conversation.

I learned a lot about community while spending time in New Orleans where I researched my thesis. It focused on a cultural arts centre called Ashé and the impact that centres like these can have in the aftermath of disaster or conflict. What I learned during this process was that community gives strength to people and is strengthened in return. I believe that if that sense of community were accessible to all it would make people’s lives better

One way we can build community is through art. I saw this first hand while assisting in Mary Wallace’s program Making Art Creating Community where children deemed ‘high-risk’ were invited to participate in art classes. These classes incorporated many community-building themes. For example, each student was asked to design and make a stamp. Then the students went around the class to have their own pieces of art stamped with all the creations of their classmates. Only through collaboration could this project be completed.

Community can also be built through food. One of the ways that Ashé encouraged engagement and participation was through the liberal use of food. All film screenings, workshops and events featured food, and delicious and healthy food at that. It served not only as a way to bring people in and break the ice but also, in an underserved area of New Orleans, it most importantly provided access to healthy food.

The current conversation about food is turning; people are becoming more engaged in what they’re eating and where it comes from. Ideas like sustainability and nutrition are front and centre both in the media and in many people’s minds. More and more people are acknowledging that there exists a problem with the way we’re producing food and consuming food. This has created a growing ‘food community’ accessible to everyone with a computer or a farmers market. But how can we build on that food community to engage young people and those without access to the world of healthy, affordable and sustainable food?

Gardening is in my blood. My grandparents immigrated from the Netherlands to Canada in 1952 and started a nursery in Southern Ontario; this nursery is flourishing to this day and remains in the family. So I have been lucky enough to have spent my life surrounded by plants and gardens and those who feel passionately about them. I believe that a move towards school, community and home gardens, and projects that are accessible to anyone can open the door for the building of a strong inclusive community.

We can create community through art, food and gardening and I’d love for you to take this journey with me!