Spotlight: Elizabeth MacMillan, Algoma Educational Gardening Committee

Social entrepreneurs in the truest sense are people who experience a social or environmental injustice and have the courage to do something about it. Take Elizabeth, a young changemaker in Northern Ontario who is combining innovative practices and her lived experiences around food insecurity to make a difference for those in her community today — and well into the future.

Elizabeth is working on several community garden projects in Sault Ste. Marie’s downtown core that seek to alleviate food insecurity with the Algoma Educational Gardening Committee.

Check out her story below:

Q: What inspires you?

A: The entire world inspires me because I’m a mom and I have kids, so I have to think about their future, which in turn makes me think about everybody’s future. That is kind of what started the school garden and it took off from there.

I have kids, so I have to think about their future, which in turn makes me think about everybody’s future.

Q: What is the motivation behind the community garden projects that you are working on?

A: I grew up in poverty and I spent a lot of my life at the soup kitchen growing up, so being hungry is not something I’m unfamiliar with. I still know a lot of people that go to the soup kitchen, and I see kids at school every day, going to the food program for the morning breakfasts. That kind of thing just shouldn’t happen in a day and age where we should be able to at least grow some food locally.

Q: Who do you hope to impact/reach through your business? Why?

A: Right now, it’s the whole community. It started with children because they are the next generation. But now that I’m getting into the soup kitchen I find I want to get in with more of the community itself, get into the different places like, Canadian Mental Health, Phoenix Rising, Community Living Algoma and that kind of thing, and then see where it can go from there. [I am finding] a lot of people are interested in gardening but they’re just not sure how to get started.

A lot of people are interested in gardening but they’re just not sure how to get started.

Q: What barriers/challenges have you encountered?

A: When I started I was told that it would take me ‘three to four years to garden with a school’ and ‘good luck.’ So I really didn’t have a great head start and no one was really taking me seriously. So many other people had tried and given up when they were told no. I’m not that person so it was difficult. Because I was a young mom, I came in with the idea and when they said no, I was determined to get an education so they couldn’t tell me no.

Q: How did you confront those challenges and barriers? What resources did you need? What resources do you need as you move forward?

A: I have to get more education to be a stronger voice, and at this point, I need people. I need more hands because I only have two. I would really like to get that horticulture therapy course and hopefully be able to expand a little bit on, not only my knowledge, but what I’m able to give back. Little kids want to learn about all of this cool stuff and I know some of it, but I’m certainly not anywhere near where I’d like to be.

At this point, I need people. I need more hands because I only have two.

Q: Who is your community of support? How important is a local, face-to-face community of support?

A: Well I have a very small community right now but I find it highly important. Because of the Soup Kitchen garden I kind of got pulled into the District Gardening Committee so that I could have a place and I’m able to do the volunteer work that I have been doing. We have been talking about doing more gardens around the city. It’s all part of being involved.

Q: What would have made this process easier for you?

A: Education was the only way I could see past the barriers that were in front of me to get started, because nobody took me seriously. I had kids at 16 and stayed home with them on welfare. People hear that little bit of me and think ‘okay bye’, but I have more to me. I lived a life on the streets, I’ve been hungry, I’ve been hungry as a mom and there’s so much lived knowledge with people who have suffered. I think people take that for granted. Instead of turning away the Mom who you know just lived for ten years on welfare, ask her how she did it. It takes skill to be able to budget and pay for everything, and food has always been an issue. I know, it’s been an issue for me and when I sit at the Soup Kitchen and see people getting served expired goods, I know there has to be something better than that.

There’s so much lived knowledge with people who have suffered. I think people take that for granted. Instead of turning away the Mom who you know just lived for 10 years on welfare, ask her how she did it.

Q: How can the community learn more about what you are doing?:

A: We currently have two Facebook pages:

1) ‘Algoma Educational Gardening Committee’

2) ‘All Ontario Schools Should Grow Eatable Gardens’


Originally published at www.seethechange.ca.

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