Organization Name
Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS)

Coordinator Name
Heather Asbil, Coordinator, Growing Strong Neighbourhoods Program

About ISANS and the Growing Strong Neighbourhoods Program
ISANS’ mission is to help immigrants build a future in Nova Scotia. Through programming, counselling, and education they aim to build a community where all can belong and grow. The Growing Strong Neighbourhoods Program fits perfectly with ISANS mission and vision; the program provides community development work through community gardens in four different neighbourhoods: Glen Garden has 51 garden plots, and is located on Glenforest Drive; the Multicultural Garden has 36 garden plots, and is located on Ashburn Avenue; Killam Garden has 14 plots, and is on Plateau Crescent; and Mosaic Garden has 32 plots, and is located on Willet Street. Interest is so high that garden plots have to be split in half to try to accommodate as many families as possible, which means each family has very limited gardening space. While this makes an impact on those families’ food security, ideally each family would have access to a full plot. The gardens are open to the public, and are meant to bring different groups of people together to help build a sense of community. ISANS hosts various social events at the gardens, such as potlucks, BBQs, and art activities, to encourage people to visit the gardens and connect with their neighbours. 

As the coordinator for the Growing Strong Neighbourhoods Program, Heather Asbil witnesses the amazing potential within the newcomer community at the gardens. She says many of these newcomers come from strong agricultural backgrounds; they have so many skills, so much knowledge, and they are gardening in different ways than Canadian-born residents. She is concerned that most residents don’t realize the skills and how much newcomers have to contribute within the community. As one example; while most Canadian-born residents only eat the fruit and seeds of a pumpkin plant, a newcomer from the Congo may eat the leaves, while Nepali-Bhutanese newcomers will eat the shoots. Sharing information like this with each other could lead to less waste, and more efficient use of garden and farm space.

If we could get over the things that divide us, and make sure people have the space to contribute and share their talents, then we would all benefit from that.”

ISANS and Common Roots have had a very symbiotic relationship, supporting each other in various ways, including: joint employment projects, workshops, sharing gardening skills, and knowledge sharing. For the last couple of years, Common Roots and ISANS have been working together to tackle cultural food security; focusing on families not just having enough food, but having enough culturally appropriate foods.

“It’s beautiful to see the relationships that have developed, to see people find a community within Common Roots that they otherwise may not have had.”

Heather has a deep connection to farming herself, as both of her parents grew-up on farms, and her mother had a large garden that she helped with as a child. After university, she worked on a farm on the South Shore, then with newcomers, before she moved to Guatemala for two years to work on a community gardens project. Upon her return home, she knew she wanted to connect newcomers with community gardens, so ISANS and Growing Strong Neighbourhoods was a perfect fit for her. Heather’s favorite thing about working with ISANS is working within such a diverse workplace, with people with such different experiences than her own, and having her worldview challenged every day. 

For more information about the Growing Strong Neighbourhoods Program please contact: Heather Asbil  | hasbil@isans.ca  | 902.406.8657

Written by Angie Lynch