›› Jesse Wallis, Food Security Coordinator, Fernwood NRG

The gardens at Fernwood Community Centre are thrumming with activity, life, and growth. If you haven’t passed by to taste some of the bounty we have growing, we invite you to help yourself – smell the lavender in the tea garden, marvel at the heights of the sunflowers, and crawl through the bushes of beans to find one ready to eat.

Below the crawling kiwi trellis, you’ll find the Three Sisters; Corn, Beans, and Squash. This ancient Indigenous practice of companion planting connects us to old ways of knowing, of knowledge that comes from the intertwining of people and plants. These seeds have been saved year after tender year, passed down a long lineage of survivors, who knew to listen out for the whispered secrets of the Sisters. Old hands showed young, to ensure these life sustaining seeds would withstand times of scarcity, drought, uncertainty. Seed saving is survival. Growing food is a radical act.

The Three Sisters grow in symbiosis; each giving and receiving the benefits of each other’s company. Their companionship teaches us of community interdependence and reciprocity.

The Corn, first and leading Sister grows a deep tap root to pull water stores from deep in the earth. She grows tall and stable, providing an anchor for the Bean sister, who’s vining tendrils trail up the Corn’s stalk. The Bean appreciates her sister’s support, and gives back deep underground. By fixing the nitrogen in the soil, the legume Bean ensures all the sisters can benefit from the compound that boosts their leafy green growth. Baby Squash sister crawls along the ground, providing shade over the otherwise exposed soil, becoming a living mulch that also prevents other plants from out-competing the sisters for the precious resources of light, water, and nutrients. As bonded allies, each supports, uplifts and benefits the others in this truly harmonious trio.

“The way of the Three Sisters reminds us of the basic teachings of our people. The most important thing each of us can know is our unique gift and how to use it in the world. Individuality is cherished and nurtured, because, in order for the whole to flourish, each of us has to be strong in who we are and carry our gifts with conviction, so they can be shared with others. Being among the Sisters provides a visible manifestation of what a community can become when it’s members understand and share their gifts. In reciprocity, we fill our spirits as well as our bellies.”

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

If you’d like to learn more, or have a tour of the community gardens, join us for our weekly volunteer garden party every Thursday from 4pm -6pm!