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How a professional landscape designer in Kamloops is working to promote food security

Shelaigh Garson is a landscape designer by profession with an educational background in designing arts and illustration.
Shelaigh Garson is a landscape designer by profession with an educational background in designing arts and illustration.

Interest in food security and food sovereignty has surged in the past 12 years, according to an experienced permaculture land designer and educator in Kamloops.

Shelaigh Garson has been a part of countless land-based learning and food growing projects over her 20 years in the field of permaculture, including designing ten food forests, one of which is about to receive important funding.

“A food forest is a garden where vegetables, herbs and fruit trees are planted to mimic patterns in nature,” Garson said. “They are made up mostly of perennials, so tend to be very resilient and able to develop and regenerate themselves over time. They can be designed to be more resilient to the effects of climate change.”

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Three years ago, with input and approval from the Skeetchestn Community School and Skeetchestn Indian Band, Garson designed a food forest for the school. The food forest is built on six large terraces that ascend the hillside, and includes a self-sustaining water harvesting system made of natural materials.

A food forest at the Skeetchestn Community School near Kamloops.
A food forest at the Skeetchestn Community School near Kamloops.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Shelaigh Garson

Garson said the gardens are made of layers from the canopy to the roots, all carefully designed to support each other.

“Each level is called a guild of plants that are made of companion plants,” she said. “For an example, if you had an apple tree you would put in plants close to the tree that bloom at the same time, attracting pollinators. All the plants are placed and layered for a useful, interconnected purpose.”

Garson said food forests, like the one at the school, are made of fruit trees, berries, vegetables, and native and culturally appropriate plants.

Garson works as an educator with students in the garden using a land-based learning approach. She said the students learn everything from math to science to ecology outside in the garden, and she learns from the students too. She said Indigenous food sovereignty is a big part of permaculture.

“After the isolation due to the pandemic, the students love to be outdoors learning,” she said. “It seems very natural for Indigenous students to be reconnecting with the land and the elders encouraging the kids to get involved and engage in the garden in all ways. We grow a lot of native plants that have been here throughout history.”

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Garson recently received exciting news about the future of the Skeetchestn food forest.

“The food forest project has been approved for funding from Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program,” Garson said. “We are going to install a water cistern and a large root cellar.”

In Kamloops last year, the Sk’elep School of Excellence approved Garson to build a school garden but progress was delayed due to the tragic discovery of the remains of 215 residential school children and later, wildfire activity. This fall the garden became an open commemorative garden with more details to come.

Garson often does workshops to educate youth and adults around the principles of food forestry and how they can be applied in their own lives, and own backyards. She is active in the gardening community, the Kamloops Food Policy Council, the Master Gardeners Association and the Friends of the Garden.

Garson is a landscape designer by profession with an educational background in designing arts and illustration. Her interest is in food production and organic growing, and her passion is in design and creating unique outdoor living spaces.  

She is a self-employed garden designer at EveryOne’s Eden Garden Design.


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