A true community garden

NWIC’s new medicine wheel garden will feed and teach the community

The first phase of the medicine wheel garden was done by Northwest Indian College students, staff and faculty volunteers and included digging trenches and drainage systems, building small retaining walls and laying pathways to and through the garden. That process lasted four days, some of which were less than ideal for outdoor work.
Members of the Lummi and Bellingham communities have joined forces with Northwest Indian College (NWIC) students, staff and faculty to create a garden on the Lummi campus that will nourish, heal and teach the community.

The project, which began in March, is the Cooperative Extension department’s medicine wheel garden, located outside the department’s new building.

The purpose of the garden is to serve as a teaching tool for students and community members to learn how to use plants for food and medicine, said Vanessa Cooper, NWIC’s Traditional Plants and Foods Program Coordinator.

That knowledge will help us recapture the landscape of our culture and heritage, Cooper said. It will also serve as a tool for anyone to come and learn about and to create special relationships with the plants.

“The garden tells the story of our desire as Indian people to reclaim a part of our culture that has been almost forgotten,” Cooper said. “It also signifies our ties to the land and the importance of living in partnership with it.”

The food will be used for cooking classes and to supplement the boxes of fresh produce local families receive through the department during the growing season. Medicinal plants and herbs will be harvested and used to make plant medicine. Left over plants will be harvested, dried and used for tea.

Classes will be held regularly that will teach college students and community members how to harvest the plants, cook them and make medicine.

The garden isn’t quite complete yet, but volunteers that include students and faculty from NWIC’s Indigenous Service Learning and Human Development classes have put a lot of effort into making it a reality.

The first phase of the garden included digging trenches and drainage systems, building small retaining walls and laying pathways to and through the garden. That process lasted four days, some of which were less than ideal for outdoor work.

“The weather was very cold and it even snowed at times, but everyone showed up and no one complained,” Cooper said. “The students worked together really well. They formed groups naturally and worked very cooperatively together.” 

One of those students, James Shoshone (Western Shoshone and Washo of Nevada and California) said the work was physically demanding, but really rewarding, too.

“In the end it touched our lives because we were contributing back to the community,” Shoshone said. “It was good for everyone on a mental and even a spiritual level.”

The most recent garden project was the planting of more than 40 fruit trees and berry bushes on March 30. NWIC students were joined by 20 seventh graders from Lummi Tribal School and Lummi and Bellingham community members for that project.

“The food from the trees will help to feed our people and add a beautiful structure to our landscape,” Cooper said.

On March 30, Northwest Indian College’s Cooperative Extension department held a fruit tree planting workshop for the department’s new medicine wheel garden. More than 40 fruit trees and berry bushes were planted. The department’s Traditional Plants and Foods Program Coordinator, Vanessa Cooper (front left) was joined by NWIC students, staff and faculty, members of the Lummi and Bellingham communities and 20 seventh graders from Lummi Tribal School.
Cooper said she plans to have the garden completed by May 30, so there are still more opportunities to volunteer. The next phases of the garden will be to add raised beds for vegetables, and build a fence and an above ground irrigation system to keep the plants fed.
“There is still a lot of work to be done, and then we will need help maintaining the whole garden area,” Cooper said.

For more information, contact Vanessa Cooper at vcooper@nwic.edu or (360) 392-4343.