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A green summer: Newfoundland and Labrador youth at forefront of environmental, cultural sustainability

The O’Brien Farm Foundation Green Team is (left-right) Anna Malone, Gurzint Singh, Jessica Kaye, Shramana Sarkar and Liam French. -JUANITA MERCER/THE TELEGRAM
The O’Brien Farm Foundation Green Team is (left-right) Anna Malone, Gurzint Singh, Jessica Kaye, Shramana Sarkar and Liam French. -JUANITA MERCER/THE TELEGRAM - Juanita Mercer

Green Teams complete projects across province

Kids these days.

Just look at them:

Here’s 16-year-old Liam French tidying trails at O’Brien Farm in St. John’s, and there’s 19-year-old Willa Neilsen cleaning up the beach in North West River.

These Conservation Corps Newfoundland and Labrador (CCNL) Green Team members have spent their summer improving the environment while conserving culturally-significant parts of their communities, and gaining valuable skills in the process.


The Conception Bay South Green Team is (left to right): Michael Gregory, Reed Tucker, Ashley Oliver and Katerina Hotjasevs. -JUANITA MERCER/THE TELEGRAM - Juanita Mercer
The Conception Bay South Green Team is (left to right): Michael Gregory, Reed Tucker, Ashley Oliver and Katerina Hotjasevs. -JUANITA MERCER/THE TELEGRAM - Juanita Mercer

On Tuesday morning, birds are chirping in the trees while members of the Green Team in Conception Bay South unload lumber near Chamberlains Park.

They’re building a boardwalk through a meadow to connect two trails in the park, which will mean people won’t have to walk out on the road in order to access the rest of the trail.

“The more use of green space that you can get into town, the more people are going to be connected to nature,” says team supervisor Brandon Cooney as he looks out over the green space.

“And Chamberlain’s Park was kind of like a brownfield development because there used to be an Irving property here. So, seeing how we can rewild this area and make it suitable for people to enjoy — that’s a good way to get the community more connected to the environment.”

The four-person team’s been busy — aside from the boardwalk, they’ve also prepared a site at Manuels River for a new neighbourhood garden and greenhouse, and at the C.B.S. Community Garden they built a rustic fence, stage and pergola.


The North West River Green Team, Willa Neilsen and McKenzie Hutchings. -CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
The North West River Green Team, Willa Neilsen and McKenzie Hutchings. -CONTRIBUTED - Contributed

Meanwhile, the North West River two-person team in Labrador is just as busy.

Memorial University students McKenzie Hutchings and Willa Neilsen, age 21 and 19 respectively, are clewing up a summer filled with upgrades to outdoor spaces around the community.

They did some clean up and maintenance of the beach, restored planters, built archways and planted trees and shrubs at the local park, and cleared overgrown walking trails and built boardwalks to make the trail system more accessible.

“I think the kind of projects that the Green Teams take on, including ours, focus on things that are great for the communities that they take place in, as well as the environment, and bring culture and environment together,” says Neilsen.

Cultural connections

Nowhere is that more apparent than at O’Brien Farm in the heart of St. John’s, off Mount Scio Road.

Thursday morning marks the O’Brien Farm Foundation Green Team’s second-last day before the end of their eight-week stint, and the five-person team is proud to show off the fruits of their labour.

Team member Shramana Sarkar leads a tour, beginning at the community garden where they planted perennial flowers, and built a fence using repurposed materials — fallen branches and posts from a collapsed barn (a casualty of the January storm).

Sarkar then leads the group to a beehive box through a path which they widened and cleared for the beekeeper. From there, it’s a short uphill walk through another trail spruced up by the team. They proudly show off wooden fencing and stone-lined paths which they completed.



“This is a 200-year-old farm, so it’s nice to work on this type of project so that the public can access these areas, and explore some places that they might have not ever seen before which are just here in the city — you don’t even need to go far outside the city,” says team leader Gurzint Singh, an 18-year-old engineering student at Memorial University.

Indeed, O’Brien Farm is one of the last original family farms in the city.

According to the O’Brien Farm Foundation’s website, the last of the family line were three bachelor brothers, John, Mike and Aly.

“(They) tell a story of resistance, stubbornness, and passion for their land. Amid concerns that the farm would be swallowed by urban development, Aly, working with interested groups and the provincial government, was able to preserve O’Brien Farm as a reminder of the city’s agricultural past,” reads the website.

Today it’s an active, working farm with community gardens where people can learn about and practice sustainable food production.

“It’s also encouraging people to get outdoors and just appreciate nature,” says Green Team member Jessica Kaye, as she looks down the hill from one of the group’s cleared trails where she can see the vegetable plots, and through the trees, a peek at the urban environment just a short jaunt away.

“Here we’ve got quite a unique location as well because this is located within the heart of St. John’s, so it’s really important to preserve these areas,” she says.


Dominique Jean and Sheldon Vere-Holloway stand in front of the Bonaventure Community Garden. -JUANITA MERCER/THE TELEGRAM - Juanita Mercer
Dominique Jean and Sheldon Vere-Holloway stand in front of the Bonaventure Community Garden. -JUANITA MERCER/THE TELEGRAM - Juanita Mercer

Social benefits

Across town, another Green Team is preparing to unveil to the public the results of their summer employment.

Stella’s Circle and CCNL will host a celebration of the expansion of the Bonaventure Community Garden, thanks to the hard work of the Stella’s Circle Green Team.

In five short years since the garden began, the area in front of King’s Gate Condominium has transformed from an overgrowth of bushes, to a small cleared section in the first year for three garden beds and a greenhouse, to today — a lush green garden, rows of raised beds and a zen garden.

“The participants ... are very proud because they have a sense of ownership over this spot, and a lot of times in some of their lives they don’t really have the opportunity to feel that sense of pride, or experience what it’s like to have paid employment,” explains Dominique Jean, group facilitator with Stella’s Circle, an organization which, among many things, employs people who face barriers to employment including mental illness, homelessness, low literacy and other barriers.


A community garden bed at the Bonaventure Community Garden. Since 1993, the Green Team has employed more than 3,000 youth on over 600 projects in more than 150 communities across the province. -JUANITA MERCER/THE TELEGRAM - Juanita Mercer
A community garden bed at the Bonaventure Community Garden. Since 1993, the Green Team has employed more than 3,000 youth on over 600 projects in more than 150 communities across the province. -JUANITA MERCER/THE TELEGRAM - Juanita Mercer

Jean says this Green Team gains employability skills through the projects they complete, and he says gardening work is therapeutic in many ways.

“This project with this team is probably the best thing I’ve done in my life,” smiles Stella’s Circle Green Team member Sheldon Vere-Holloway.

Vere-Holloway points to the garden beds.

“When I walked in here, I didn’t have a super interest in gardening, and I think I leave here with a big interest in it. I also have a lot more self-confidence.

“I didn’t have a lot of work experience, so for me, this was something I really needed. I walk away from this with immense confidence to be able to get and hold employment.

“And for me, I guess, the food you grew up with is what you eat, so I grew up around fast food, and so I ate fast food. I never had kale in my life, but coming to work here, I tried it — and I loved it. So, it actually helps you eat healthier, and it just feels better when you’re planting a garden and you’re taking care of it, and using it — you can’t really put that into words.”

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