Aug 17 2016
Matt McGraw’s office, today, is jam packed with guitars, two pianos and floppy, old, worn baseball bases. The whiteboard behind his desk is covered with drawings done in erasable orange marker by his partner Hilary Cantin. Everything here is in progress in a free-flowing kind of way and everything could look different tomorrow.
The Interim Program Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Moncton — regardless of how many kids there are on any given day, Matt always has time to listen to a child’s concerns.
When I brought the idea of an Intergenerational garden to Matt at the Boys and Girls Club of Moncton, he jumped at it and has been an incredible supporter the whole time.
Since the club is a drop in centre, when there is an activity on offer, one of the staff will “go round up kids who want to garden” and we go ahead to wait for them. Here is Matt leading a group eager to work.
The kids love Matt. They peer into his office door to see what he’s up to and are always eager to follow him when he has something to show them, like how to plant basil.
His bright blue eyes get brighter when he talks about projects he has overseen, like the small garden he started last year with the help from RBC. “We just planted,” he says. “We weren’t overly vigilant about it but things grew.” So when I approached him with the idea to add five new beds this year, create a kid-illustrated handbook, and involve seniors he jumped at the chance.
Matt always has time to listen to the children’s concerns and take them seriously, even if all they want is to go have a drink of water.
For Matt gardening know-how has somehow skipped a generation — his. “(That) knowledge has been disconnected from our generation,” he says. “It’s important to make that connection point so that it can trickle down to the youth, too, especially as it’s becoming a feasible way to feed yourself.”
Since the club is a big drop-in centre, the process for involving kids is a staff member will be selected to “go round up some kids who want to garden” and off they go and off I go with my volunteers down to the garden to wait for them. Soon, like a scene from the Music Man, a staff will come around the corner at the far end of the building leading a group sometimes as small as three or four kids or sometimes as large as nine or ten. And we garden or draw. Or eat.
Mostly, the younger kids are involved. “They’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” Matt explains. “We let them do as much work as they can weeding, and teach them proper watering techniques and how to plant different seeds.
“There’s an eagerness to learn among all of the youth that participate in the gardening program. Some of these youth are invested just to get their hands dirty and try something new, while others come with home-grown gardening experience of their own. Either way, our youth are ecstatic to garden, and ask everyday “how are the vegetables?””
Harvesting is the reward
The best part of gardening is, of course, eating. Here we’re snacking on beans. Children from the top: Mohammad, Zackaryia and Youssef.
Matt remembers the fun of harvest time from the previous year. “The most excited I’ve seen the kids was lifting up the cucumber leaves and seeing these big field cucumbers, just monsters,” he says. They pickled their yield last year but this year he hopes the harvest might supplement, in a small way, the food they provide for the kids at the club and even become the basis for teaching healthy cooking. “We want healthy body, healthy mind, essentially passing on knowledge of how to prepare a meal.”
Possible model for the community
Matt sees this gardening initiative spreading to the greater community as children influence their parents. “I would like to see just about any piece of lawn being used for something rather than just green carpet.”
For Matt, the results are beautiful and rewarding. “I love getting to the end of your season and seeing food growing and really, really enjoying it.”
For fun, I gave Matt some Sea Rocket, an edible beach plant, and challenged him to grow it in his garden. That’s it on his desk. He took it into his care with the same enthusiasm that he gives to all the kids at the club. That’s his partner Hilary Cantin behind him doodling on his white board. She’s an artist who also works with us on the Inter-Generational Gardening Project.