Natalie, her husband, and two young children live in a tucked away corner of the city that seems like country. Surrounded by grassy fields and wetlands, the redwings, warblers, geese and pheasants are calling all around, yet you can hear the bells of the cathedral close at hand.
Her front yard is dominated by that huge, and intriguing concrete structure that look like a Druidic circle but, she tells us, it is the Coliseum, the remnant of what once was the biggest indoor skating rink in eastern Canada. Anyone who knows Natalie agrees that this is exactly the kind of place Natalie would find.
The other circle in Natalie’s world is a close-knit but loosely organized group of friends involved in issues and projects. “I’m not into that many organizations. It’s just a group of people and we just kind of gather and talk. Like a few of us are working on a permaculture garden in the downtown Moncton … We’re all trying to learn as much as we can and we’re all trying to spread the word as much as we can.”
While Natalie is a gardener with a local landscaping company and has studied art at NSCAD, she describes herself first as an activist, something she’s been doing most of her adult life. She has supported causes like striking bus drivers, participated in “occupy Moncton,” and opposed water fluoridation and fracking. “I always have social issues in my brain.” In April we ran into her at a New Farmers event put on by the National Farmers’ Union and were not surprised to find her there.
Garden Cities Project
A formal organization she is involved in is the Garden Cities Project. Natalie is the coordinator. She organizes box rentals at their initial Garden Hill location as well as the new Community Food Centre on St. George Street.
She also organizes workshops. Elizabeth Gorman, one of the founding members of the group, says Natalie is adept at it because of her creativity and the circle of friends with unique talents she can draw on.
Sour dough saga
In their personal lives Natalie’s friends focus on healthy living and making things from scratch. They keep each other going. Natalie tells us a story about sourdough starter. Sourdough starter is wild yeast fermented in bread dough that can be divided and shared — kind of a metaphor for how they share things and ferment ideas.
Natalie’s starter died after her daughter Ariane was born. She was just too busy to make bread. But bread making has started again thanks to the gift of starter from a friend that has been kept going for 18 years. “For the last six months we’ve been making bread every week at least once a week … and I’ve been giving away more sourdough and now we post pictures of our bread on Facebook.”
A lot of these activist friends are women and attend a yearly gathering of feminists at Caissie Cape where they celebrate, create, discuss and brainstorm. “I’m excited to be leading a discussion at a women’s summit this year. We’re going to talk about the whole Jian Ghomeshi thing face to face.”
For the past four years, Natalie has wholeheartedly dedicated herself to motherhood and it shows. Her children are trusting, curious, cuddly and talkative even if we don’t understand everything they are telling us in French.
Their outdoor environment, where they spend time every day, rain or shine, is magical with a meandering Zen path, a fire pit and an aromatic pine tree where her son Jaco hides underneath from ghosts. Are there skater-wraiths from days past that haunt the Coliseum?
The youngest, Ariane, was sporting a goatee of orange washable marker the day we were there, the result of exploratory artistry. There are toys strewn everywhere both inside the house and out.
Back in the dirt
But this is the year for getting her hands in the dirt. Natalie goes back to work full-time as a gardener and will also start to expand her own gardens at home in earnest. Last year she worked a community plot at the U de M, but this year she wants to garden where she lives. She has several new vegetable beds and plans to grow food well into December in the hot houses that she built with her dad. “I gardened with my Dad for a long time when I was a kid.”
She got back to gardening when she returned from NSCAD. “When I came back to Moncton, I started really small. I was living in an apartment with some people and there was this little garden two feet by six feet and just started there. The soil was awful but it got me started.” When we met in April she was saying, “If it were up to me this would be planted already but none of the soil companies are open yet. I want soil, I’m excited. I want to garden now.”
Respect for the natural way of things
Inventive and respectful of nature, she points to a patch of Colt’s Foot next to the house where she has struggled to establish a garden. She has concluded that these wild flowers shouldn’t be eradicated (they do have some medicinal benefit) and that she will, instead, work with the persistent plants by sinking coffee bean bags full of soil into the patch and grow her vegetables that way.
She also has a healthy garlic patch and an area of earth reserved for a bee garden.
Growing her own food is half of the equation — the other half, food security for everyone, is always on her mind. “People don’t realize that we’re going in a scary direction. They’re blaming themselves because they’re struggling to eat.” She sees this at close hand with her peers — her own generation. “This is wrong that people can’t afford to both eat and pay rent.”
Natalie is a doer — comfortable and confident speaking her mind. Her motto: “Learn as much as we can and spread the word.”