“Exuberant, creative, bright-eyed, smart and beautiful in so many ways, Alya Nouasri loves to organize and work to advance the social good, like organizing a Community Food Mentor program, which is where I first met her.”— Elaine Mandrona
Last June (2015) Alya Nouasri and the Mapleton Teaching Kitchen’s Janet Hamilton facilitated the first of their Community Food Mentor (CFM) programs. The CFM program is where participants learn about food security, safety and nutrition, plus grant writing for community food action, and group cooking.
Alya was bent on feeding us the best of food and went out of her way to purchase fresh veggies and goodies from Dolma Food (now resurrected after a January fire) and kept us supplied with vegan almond cookies — always in demand.
Love for good food is from family
Alya’s love and respect for good food come naturally to her. “My grandparents have always been into gardening. My parents have always been into gardening. So it’s always just been in the family.”
Originally from Whitby, Ontario, she says the richness of the soil there meant there was always lots of wonderful produce. “I remember when I was young buying bushels of peaches with my grandmother and canning peaches at our kitchen table and bushels of tomatoes at the end of the growing season and canning tomatoes. So the connection with the growers and the canning process has always been natural.”
When the family moved to New Brunswick, that connection was lost, but now, through her gardening, her volunteering and her workshops, she is helping reconnect people with growers and good food.
Passionate about hydroponics
Alya says that she got involved in hydroponics as a kind of therapy. “I found that during the summer when I was outdoors and gardening — specifically more flower gardens than anything — I was really happy and then I would work in the winter and I would have no garden and it caused a lot of seasonal depression and so the solution was this tent.” This tent is a 6 x 6 x 6 Mylar tent with reflective walls inside.
Alya said they started off with soil but switched because with hydroponics things grew faster, stronger, better.
Since then she has become a serious hydroponics gardener, and educator and grows tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant and peppers. Her dream is to create a huge hydroponics system in an old warehouse or abandoned building that potentially could help feed many Monctonians.
Always a teacher
But growing food is just one of three prongs to her dream. The second is an educational component complete with a teaching kitchen, school tours, whatever it takes to share their knowledge with the community. Sharing knowledge is a reflex for Alya. Ask her a question and you will never get a one-word answer. You’ll get, at minimum, a tip, or more likely, a short lesson. For example, at the Garden Cities Project box-making bee, we asked her how they were holding the layers of the boxes together and we got a quick demo of “toenailing.”
If there is one constant about people in the food movement it’s their generosity, whether it be giving vegetables, time or their hard-earned experience. Alya’s third prong is a prime example.
“The third prong,” Alya says, “is we’d like to be able to share our knowledge with, say, Fredericton or Saint John so that they can replicate what we’re doing here. So it’s like this huge castle but we have to work on it piece by piece.”
And then there are the chickens
And then there are the chickens. She has four chickens — the maximum allowed by law in Moncton — and to listen to the degree of detail she knows about each of their personalities, you’d think she was the parent of four adopted children. But these children supply lots of fresh eggs.
Authors and Photographers
Elaine Mandrona — Originally from Connecticut, Elaine came to New Brunswick as a back-to-the-lander in the early seventies. She now has a group called City Farming Adventures that promotes intergenerational gardening projects with a strong component of art. She came to Moncton in 2005.