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RMG stock photo.
By Korie Marshall

By: Korie Marshall

Literacy isn’t just about reading and writing. There are many kinds of literacy, and people working in the Open Gate Garden in McBride are finalists in a provincial competition showcasing the importance and the depth of literacy.

The project was a short film where people answered the question “how has your understanding of literacy changed since you have been involved with the Open Gate Garden?” Members of the Open Gate Garden group share many ideas about what literacy is, including the idea that literacy is about sharing experiences, like community gardening.

“The beauty of working on this film,” says Bridget Uhl, “was that the participants became the filmmakers.” She says after a short hands-on workshop, the participants saw the amazing results of their first short film about starting a community garden. Some of them had never used a camera before, “so basically we just used the video camera as a talking stick. The positive feedback received from their first attempt at filmmaking encouraged them to do another film about learning and literacy.” Uhl says she and Erin Howe helped with the final edit.

The film was submitted to a province-wide literacy contest held by Decoda Literacy Solutions to raise awareness of the importance of BC’s literacy needs, and it was chosen as one of the five finalists. Decoda says the Open Gate Garden video was selected for its “stellar effort to explain what literacy meant to the group, how it has impacted their lives, and what the task group has done to increase literacy in the McBride community.”

Nancy Taylor explained some of the beginning of the Open Gate Garden. She says she was really influenced by the community literacy work done in the Bulkley Valley around community gardens and community kitchens. She was keen to get the contract to be the literacy outreach coordinator for the Robson Valley – a small contract, just four hours a week through the Library. She works with a task group of very diverse people, and the group aims to be welcoming and inclusive, and to make all their decisions by consensus. They’ve been able to leverage $30,000 for the community garden, but Taylor says the biggest impact is that members have learned a variety of skills that translate into the rest of their lives, from recognizing that what we eat affects our health, to civic literacy. She says the group’s motto is “We are all learners and we are all teachers.”

“Gardens are a metaphor for life,” says Taylor. Each of us need different things, have different habits, but we can co-exist and help each other, just like the plants in the garden. She says the group wants the garden to be viewed as a public space – someone anyone can come into that is free, accessible and welcoming.

“Despite its essential role in our success as a province, a whopping 40 per cent of BC adults do not have the literacy skills necessary to read a newspaper, fill out a work application form, read a map, or understand a residential lease,” says Dan Enjo, spokesperson for Decoda.

The “Literacy is Life” Letters Contest was a highlight of the “Literacy is Life” campaign organized by Decoda. It is a province-wide campaign to raise awareness of the importance of literacy, create a new, modern understanding of literacy, and raise funds to ensure that community-based literacy programs across BC can support the people who depend on them.

Uhl, who is going back to do her Masters in Media Studies at Simon Fraser University, will be attending the campaign launch event in Vancouver on September 10th on behalf of the Open Gate Garden. The winner of the competition will be announced at the event. You can watch the video at