Growing our Community: Youth-led initiative empowers people to garden

As a summer student with Horizon Health Network (Horizon), Kandis Neil-Sampson spent the summer of 2020 making connections, applying for grants to initiate programs, and at the end of the day, truly living Horizon’s vision of helping people be healthy!

Kandis, who’s originally from Stanley, said through this internship, she’s learned so much about the Tantramar Area and the different social organizations that are trying to better the community.

“I learned about this community and how strong it is and how people came together to enact positive change when facing tough times during lockdown and the recovery from lock down,” she said. “Sackville thrives from the university students and COVID-19 really hurt the economy, but people really came together.”

Kate Doyle, community developer for the Moncton Area, said Kandis began working with her in June as a support to the Tantramar Community Food Smart program. Kate quickly learned there would be more opportunities for her, especially in areas where food security issues were popping up as a result of COVID-19.

“As she connected with some of the working groups as part of the Tantramar COVID-19 Task Force, opportunities like the home garden project popped up,” said Kate. “Kandis and her peers immediately jumped into action. It was great having her support my work but in reality, the leadership and innovation she and her peers showed in all their other projects was a highlight of the summer for me!”

Growing our Community

One of the projects Kandis facilitated throughout the summer was Growing our Community, which saw 10 families receive garden packs so they could grow their own vegetables in containers.

Included in each garden pack was a reusable bag that held tools, soil, fertilizer, and containers and pots for each family to grow their vegetables.

“I also made little how-to guides for each of the families, to help them care for their vegetables,” Kandis said.

Families receiving food boxes through Port Elgin Regional School were asked if they were interested in receiving a garden pack, and 10 said yes.

Kandis said the idea came about during a packing day for Tantramar Community Food Smart in July. Kate said MacArthur’s Nurseries was looking to donate some vegetable plants to a good cause.

Jessica Hughes, from Sackville 2020, was volunteering that day as well, and mentioned that she and Hannah Crouse (the summer student at Horizon’s Port Elgin and Region Health Services Centre) had been interested in finding a way to bring gardening to low income families.

“I got really excited by the concept and for the rest of the packing, Jessica and I brainstormed and came up with how we could make it a reality,” Kandis said.

Kandis got to work on grant applications and they received two to support the project: one from Rising Youth for $1,500, and one from Community Food Action in the amount of $900.

With the grant money, they were able to get everything they needed to bring the garden packs to life.

“First, we needed a way to transport a ton of plants, I think we ended up with around 70 plants in total. We rented a 15-foot U-Haul to transport them back to Sackville,” Kandis said.

The donated plants included an assortment of tomatoes, peppers, beans, lettuce and greens.

“We picked up tools such as shovels, rakes, gloves, watering cans, and tomato cages. As well as soil, fertilizer, and a ton of pots,” Kandis said.

Next, she recruited some students from Tantramar Regional High School to put the packs together.

“They were all amazing and hard working,” Kandis said. “I also recruited some really great volunteers from the Youth and Action group to help deliver the plants. I really can’t thank all of them enough.”

These garden packs not only help fight food insecurity, but they give individuals a sense of purpose, and a more reliable and sustainable food source during the gardening season. Children are able to wake up every morning and take care of their plants, pick fresh vegetables, and enjoy them with their families.

“We wanted to incorporate a more sustainable means of having fresh food, and this does just that,” Kandis said.

Before this summer, Kandis said she was unaware of the food security issues in the Tantramar Area or how involved Horizon’s Port Elgin and Region Health Services Centre was in local community groups.

“I did not know how much one person can impact positive change when given the resources,” she said. “Horizon, and especially Kate Doyle, have shown me how to access resources to be able to create programs like Growing our Community, which can genuinely give a positive change to our community.”

Kandis Neil-Sampson is originally from Stanley, N.B., and in the fall of 2020 will enter her fourth year at Mount Allison University. A former resident of Campbell Hall (North Side pride!), she will graduate with a major in cognitive science and a minor in psychology.

While in high school, Kandis worked and volunteered in nursing homes, homes and spent a lot of time with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Because of this, she’s interested in neurological disorders and illnesses, and plans on furthering her education and specializing in neuropsychology and gerontology.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has participated in various committees with the Tantramar COVID-19 Task Force, including the Food Security Action Group, Youth and Student Action Group, and various subcommittees including volunteering with environmental sustainability, and youth-spaces.