Therapy garden to provide food and comfort for shelter occupants

The therapy garden at the women’s shelter in Stony Rapids follows a circular design to honour the First Nations culture. (Pamela Huerto/Submitted)

“People can just walk the circles, they can relax, they can just enjoy the moment.”

– Frank Tecklenburg, Earth Connections

Women and children seeking comfort in a new Stony Rapids shelter will have a therapy garden to grow their own food.

The six-unit shelter is called Sa kew chu sa’kew ko’ni kwa—meaning ‘a home for women and children’s shelter’—and surrounds the Dene culture. It officially open in September.

Frank Tecklenburg of Earth Connections in Vanscoy has been working with the Athabasca Health Authority (AHA) for years to help with food security.

Tecklenburg travelled to Stony Rapids to install garden towers in the school there about a year and a half ago. He and AHA Health Promotions Manager Pamela Huerto were having lunch one day, and decided to do a therapy garden in the shelter.

“The ladies and children that will be there won’t be there under the best circumstances, but I really hope this will give them a space where they can kind of do some of that land-based healing and relax a bit, connect to nature, have something to nurture and just overall have a safe space,” said Huerto.

Also a registered dietitian, Huerto said the AHA has been encouraging growing your own food. Fresh produce is difficult to find in northern Saskatchewan.

“It is a challenge because up here mostly the conditions aren’t great for it. We have obviously really cold winters, really short summers. Most of the soil isn’t really appropriate. We typically have sand and rock,” she said.

This is why Huerto requested that the garden provides fruit—it has raspberry, chokecherry and blueberry bushes and apple trees. Because of the harsh conditions, they used mature plants that will hopefully survive the season.

In addition, there’s a garden bed where the women and children can grow whatever they want. Huerto planted potatoes in it for now, that will be ready to eat when people start living there next month.

But the garden will provide more than just fresh food.

“Therapy gardens have been done for a variety of different purposes and as a stress relief, as a way for people to be able to relax,” explained Tecklenburg.

He’s put raised garden beds in seniors homes so that they, too, can have plants to take care of. Tecklenburg described the women’s shelter as a continuation of that initiative.

Additionally, he designed the garden to suit the First Nations culture, working with Steven Wiig of Holistic Landscape Design to bring it to life.

The pathways take you in a circle along the four directions, honouring connections of the mind, heart, body and spirit.

In the middle of the circles is an open space with benches.

“People can just walk the circles, they can relax, they can just enjoy the moment,” said Tecklenburg.

He said his family business is passionate about supporting other people using gardens for therapy and fresh food: “That’s why we do what we do. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s amazing and we’re really grateful to have the opportunity.”

Earth Connections has worked with nearly 30 First Nations for a variety of projects and workshops.