June 17th, 2024

Sim’s vision becomes garden for body and soul


By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on June 1, 2024.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Mayor Blaine Hyggen, along with Kathy Lewis, Dan Banman and Maria Schultz, plant tomatoes in the Contemplative Food Garden during its grand opening ceremony this week at the Martha Retreat Centre.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

What started as a one woman’s vision has become a place that will benefit the community for many years to come, a place that will provide nourishment not only for the body but also for the soul.

The Martha Retreat Centre celebrated the grand opening of their Contemplative Food Garden Thursday afternoon, the vision from executive director Diana Sim becoming a reality and a way to celebrate a big milestone.

“I had a vision of a garden space. This was dried-up grass, just very similar to what it was at the YWCA,” said Sim during her opening speech.

She explained that during her time working at the YWCA she helped create their Serenity Garden and ever since she became executive director of the Martha Retreat Centre she wanted to do something similar.

Sim asked for help and more than 150 people got involved along the way to create the Contemplative Food Garden.

“Many meals will be prepared to feed a number of people. Last year we planted eight beds and started feeding retreats at the centre with fresh veggies in August of 2023,” said Sim.

She explained they only planted eight beds because they did not want to plant a deer’s buffet as they did not have a fence around the garden then, but now they do.

“Today we celebrate 50 years since the sisters held their first retreat here at Martha Retreat Centre. The centre was built as a noviciate, but that really didn’t take off, so it evolved into the retreat centre,” said Sim.

She said one of their dreams for the garden is to teach people how to garden, especially those who are new to Canada, to teach them what to plant according to the local conditions, as well as to provide a place for people to garden as a way to enrich their soul.

“Also to develop programs that center around fresh produce and community cooking, to host retreats in the garden and share fresh produce with the food banks,” said Sim.

She added that what grows there will be distributed from the garden to the table and soul.

When talking about the centre, Sim explained that the centre evolve after the sisters of St. Martha served in our community for 90 years. As they aged, they recognized their capacity to operate the centre was decreasing and therefore, before returning to Antigonish, Nova Scotia they engaged community members to develop a board of directors, forming the Martha Retreat Centre Society in 2018.

“As an independent charity, our team has grown to include three staff, 80 volunteers and over 100 donors. New programs including this amazing beautiful garden will continue to evolve,” said Sim.

Who attends the Martha Retreat Centre? That questioned was answered by Sim when she explained that some people attend out of curiosity, others attend the centre’s programming and others attend because those who previously attended bring them to the centre.

“A lot of people come, they attend one program, then they attend another program, then their partner comes along with them, then they become a volunteer and then they become a donor. It’s so exciting to see the process of engagement,” said Sim.

She added that wise people attend the centre to practice the value and importance of stillness, solitude and transformation of living.

Sim shared the story of one of her volunteers who helped her for three days recently. He went through a similar engagement process that ended up being beneficial for both parties.

“One young man started attending meetings and his curiosity engaged him in a conversation with me. He asked me ‘do you need some help around here?’ So I said ‘well, yes.’ So he came in, volunteered for three days,” said Sim.

She said he helped her by moving some rocks around, with the soil for the garden, as well as moving some of it to the South bed.

“This young man volunteered for three days in a row. On the third day,I said thank you for helping me out these last three days. He looked at me and said, ‘I need to thank you, I haven’t been able to sleep for months but working hard like this I have had two full good night sleeps,'” said Sim.

She said that was only one short story of the many people who attend the centre and for whom the centre really makes a difference to.

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