by Learning Lead- Joanne Cerdan

The Gardening in Small Spaces project continues! In this blog, I will showcase some of the highlights, successes and failures of my gardening journey. I will also show you the Filipinx dish I learned to cook!

I’m discovering more and more that I long for “roots” and a connection to a land that is not mine.

-Danielle Moore, March 14, 2017, Stories of Today: Letters to the Future

From Surviving to Thriving

Between mid-May to early July, we experienced blistering hot temperatures, but also cold evenings in Toronto causing damage to some of the plants. The leaves of the bitter melon gourds and the eggplants started wilting. The okra plants also weren’t doing so well, as the leaves had some brown spotting. The water bottle planters, unfortunately, we’re a failure. Too much heat was trapped in the plastic which wilted our lettuce. Moreover, we experienced a delay in the germination of tomatoes, chillies and bitter melon seeds that we tried to germinate using last year’s harvest. In the future, we will have to start germinating the seeds a couple of months earlier. 

By late July to early August, our gardening journey took a positive turn! The green chillies, all our tomato plants, and eggplants started flowering. We manually pollinated a few of the flowers on our plants using our fingers, but then a week after the first sign of flowering, we had bees visit the garden constantly. We joined a couple of Facebook groups for gardening in Toronto for tips. Inconsistent watering can cause tomatoes to split, but thankfully, we didn’t experience that issue. We had tons of cherry and beefsteak tomatoes throughout the season. Tomatoes tend to be quite expensive, so we were happy to save some money throughout the summer. 

We started harvesting most of our vegetables in mid-August. Our Chinese eggplant only provided about four fruits, but we were able to harvest from our American eggplant once a week. We also couldn’t keep up with the bitter melon, red and green chillies, banana peppers, herbs and okra! We hosted several family barbecues to share the wealth of produce.

Photo by Joanne Cerdan.


Pinakbet is a vegetable dish from the Philippines. The first time I went to Danielle’s house, I distinctly remember this dish being served at her house. I know Danielle had a trip planned to visit her family home in the Philippines. In her own words, she stated:

My parents were going to name me Mahalia.

My mother is from the Philippines, and in Tagalog, “mahal” means love. I think my parents were afraid that I wouldn’t fit in with such a culturally distinct name, and so they named me Danielle Courtney – a beautiful name, but a name without a story. I, like many other Canadians, struggle with my own identity and with what being a Canadian really means.

I’m discovering more and more that I long for “roots” and a connection to a land that is not mine.

When I envision the future, I imagine a world where people don’t have to feel ashamed of their culture, religion, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation. I envision a future where diversity is embraced, and used to strengthen community resilience. I’d like to see Canadians working together, holding and supporting one another in differences and similarities.” – Danielle Moore, March 14, 2017, Stories of Today: Letters to the Future

Like Danielle, I wanted to embrace my culture and race. In my own way, I decided to do this through food. 

My mom started off by sautéing about 1 chopped onion, a few chopped cloves of garlic and 1 cup of chopped pork in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. Once the pork turned brown (about 5-7 minutes), she added about 1 cup chopped squash, 1 chopped tomato, several okras, slices of bitter melon,  and slices of eggplant. She added some water, salt and pepper to taste, and cooked the vegetables until they were soft to touch. We enjoyed this delicious dish alongside a bed of rice.

I want to thank my amazing family for helping me with this project, and to Danielle for inspiring me to do this project. I am currently in the process of saving the seeds of this year’s harvest for next year’s garden!

Photo taken by Joanne Cerdan.

For those in the Toronto area who are also interested in gardening, Toronto does have allotment gardens available at various locations across the city for a small fee. Applications to get on a waitlist open in February.  Here is more information about community gardens in Toronto and how to start your own community garden.

Other gardening projects from Learning Leads located outside Ontario will be posted on the Waterlution: The Cautious Optimist Project!

Joanne Cerdan (she/her) is a Student Affairs practitioner residing in Toronto and is also a Master’s of Higher Education student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She is a childhood friend of Danielle Moore and often reminisces about the camping and fun adventure trips they used to have. Like Danielle, Joanne enjoys spending time outdoors connecting with nature and believes in advancing equity and sustainability through education.