MOUNTAIN LIFE - Blue Mountains | Fall 2018

22 ML BLUE FALL 2018 Tucked away in the heart of Owen Sound is a place of refuge, calm and tranquility. It’s called the Food Forest and the program manager is an inspiring woman who loves to get out there and do whatever it takes to make dreams reality. But like many people who are truly driven to help others, she doesn’t want any attention. “Please don’t make it about me,” asks Teresa Pearson. “Can we make it about me and CMHA?” Her Food Forest project through the CanadianMental Health Association started back in 2013; leasing an old abandoned tennis court from the city of Owen Sound, they cleaned up the broken glass and started 25 four-by-eight foot raised garden beds. These are all maintained by clients of the CMHA. “I’m passionate about employing people with mental health...” Teresa pauses, “the word we’re using now is mental health experience .That is a term that the clients like, versus mental health illness. ” Those experiences include depression, anxiety, schizo- phrenia and many other mental health diagnoses. “All are welcome,” says Teresa. Now with 54 beds that CMHA client gardeners maintain, they have added 42 more beds that any members of the community can garden for free. “We have an Indigenous garden, we have Syrian refugees gardening, we have almost-homeless people. It’s a huge diversity.” The beds maintained by CMHA clients are filled with everything from Trinidad Moruga peppers and Italian eggplants, to edible flowers and Thai basil. “A lot of this we grow specifically for marketability at the Owen Sound market,” she says.“Our Carolina reapers are all sold already. We sell them by the pound. Local companies that make hot sauces buy them. They’re money makers for us. Everything goes back to the garden.” The Food Forest was a recipient of the Federal $100,000 Aviva Community Fund in 2016 and is using that to add more reasons for people from every walk of life to visit. They have used some of the money to build the edible labyrinth, a meditative circular garden complete with trails and herbs throughout. The funds also went towards a number of plants, trees, garden beds, a gazebo, a shed, a lawn tractor and a lot more. And with 32 employees throughout Grey and Bruce Counties, the CMHA has clients working in the garden, and in their kitchen, as caterers, cleaners, front desk workers, and in snow removal. And with plans to open a cafe at 1028 2 nd Avenue East in Owen Sound, there will be room to employ even more people. “What do people want?” asks Pearson. “They want to have a reason to put their feet on the ground in the morning, they want to know they matter. They want to contribute. And having a job is a way that people know they matter. I’d employ everyone if I could. I want them all to work, I want them all to have that opportunity.” And if that wasn’t enough, there is also another garden that anyone can harvest from. “We took the idea of a Food Forest and just ran with it,” she says. “We created a space where we can invite the entire community to come and harvest. Depending on the size of the family, they get a bin, they come in and they harvest. Anyone can do that. Free. The whole community. This is really just starting; we’re building a pizza oven, we got the funding from Bruce Power. We have San Marzano tomatoes, blueberries, shrub cherries, elderberries, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, raspberries, kale, leaf lettuce, arugula, sun berries. We have apple and pear trees. People have given amazing feedback. It will just get better and better.” While Teresa may shy away from the attention, some people just deserve to be recognized. “When I think about why we do what we do, it’s all about building community,” she adds. “I always say people have forgotten how awesome they are. I think I have the best job in the world because I get to remind them about how awesome they are. And that’s all I do. We’re a very deficit-based society— ‘what’s wrong with things, what doesn’t work?’— but how about what’s great?” And we couldn’t agree more. Isn’t Teresa Pearson awesome? —Colin Field UP FRONT THE FOOD FOREST: THE ULTIMATE COMMUNITY HARVEST ABOVE Some of the raised beds maintained by CMHA clients. BELOW Teresa Pearson. COLIN FIELD