Homeless residents in Prince George find happiness — and food — cultivating community garden

·2 min read
April Ottesen, second from left, started the Moccasin Flats garden which homeless residents, such as Jim Santos, far left, Jim Smith, centre, and Tim Bryce work on in downtown Prince George.  (Jason Peters/CBC News - image credit)
April Ottesen, second from left, started the Moccasin Flats garden which homeless residents, such as Jim Santos, far left, Jim Smith, centre, and Tim Bryce work on in downtown Prince George. (Jason Peters/CBC News - image credit)

This fall, there will be vegetables to harvest from a community garden in downtown Prince George that is being cared for by avid gardeners who live in a homeless encampment there.

The Moccasin Flats garden was started by local advocate April Ottesen, who is helping homeless people in the community grow their own food.

"I used to run a restaurant for a long time, and I got more and more interested in horticulture and working in community gardens," she said.

"I also spent a good deal of my life concerned about food security as a restaurateur. I feel like this is my mission to create edible food forests where people can access food that they need to eat guilt-free. I think people feel better when they are growing food and when they are working in the soil."

Otteson says they have planted a variety of vegetables, including potatoes, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, pumpkins, cabbage, broccoli and peas, along with berry bushes, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and calendula, borage, kale and amaranth.

Jason Peters/CBC News
Jason Peters/CBC News

Homeless residents like Tim Bryce say it's about more than just food security.

"I enjoy this. It gives something back because, in my life, I feel like some of the stuff I've done has been very parasitic towards society in my eyes. And when I do something like this, it feels like I'm giving something back where nobody's getting hurt and everyone's getting something out of it, and I get some satisfaction, and I get payback," he said.

"I get to give something back, something I've taken … Addictions are a really greedy thing, and in my eyes, I've been so greedy, taking so much away, and I haven't given much back. And now I've got the opportunity, I love it."

Jim Smith is also enjoying working on the community garden. He moved from Chetwynd to Prince George five years ago and is happy to be doing something constructive while also regaining his self-worth.

Ottesen feels it's important to be compassionate to these people who are in difficult circumstances.

Jason Peters/CBC News
Jason Peters/CBC News

"Nobody would choose to live here like this without any amenities, and I can't understand how as a society, we're OK with that. I just don't understand that," she said.

"It's a huge reminder of humanity. We're all human. And if you can't do anything else, we can be kind. We can choose to be kind."