For most people, tending a garden is a pastime that has therapeutic benefits and yields tasty and fresh rewards in the Spring and Summer time. For six-year-old Kaiel Morritt (pronounced like “Kale”) and his family, their garden is tremendously more than a pastime. Kaiel’s life depends on home-grown produce.
Kaiel and his family live in northern Alberta, Canada where the growing season is 100 days and temperatures are still in the negatives well into Spring. Their rural town is about two hours east of Edmonton (the nearest “big” city) and the town’s only grocery store is more like a convenient store. On top of the short growing season, the weather in the Spring and Summer can be unpredictable with hail storms in June and frost permeating the soil as early as August.
Kaiel was only three when his mother and father, Kim and Brian Morritt, took him to a naturopathic doctor because regular doctors couldn’t treat the constant stomach pain that Kaiel was experiencing daily. Kaiel’s pain caused him to scream throughout the night, from 7pm to sometimes 4 or 5 in the morning. At first, Kaiel’s parents thought he was just a colicky baby, but when his incessant crying through the night continued on into his toddler years, they knew something was wrong. The naturopath the Morritts took Kaiel to decided to try him on the simplified carbohydrate diet. This worked for two months before Kaiel’s pain returned. Kim says that most of Kaiel’s pain comes from his intestinal area but sometimes Kaiel will break out in hives if his body doesn’t agree with something he eats.
After years of experimenting with different types of foods, Kim and Brian have reduced Kaiel’s diet to only include fresh fruits and vegetables, grilled meats, herbs and rice. Kaiel can’t eat store-bought food and has severe reactions when he eats anything with sugar, gluten, dairy or starch. Kim thinks that preservatives are the main culprit for Kaiel’s reactions and most food items in grocery stores have some type of preservative in them. Vegetables that Kaiel can eat have to be cooked in order to not upset his stomach so most meals require ample prep time. He also can’t have leftovers because he has reactions to histamines that accumulate in leftover food. Kim and Brian have their different roles in all the food preparation, Kim does most of the growing and Brian does the canning and is the head chef. During the day Brian does IT in the nearby town, but at night he is a food connoisseur and has figured out how to make meals taste good when no one can eat starch, sugar, dairy or gluten. Some of Brian’s accomplishments include homemade ketchup, BBQ sauce and taco mix.
Kaiel’s sensitivities extend beyond food as well. Temperature, scented products (like soap, perfume, shampoo, etc.), bug bites and even being in situations that make him overly excited, trigger what are described as “pain attacks”. Kaiel was admitted to the hospital after seeing Santa two Christmas’s ago because the experience was just too much for his fragile health. Unfortunately, Last Christmas, Kaiel was hospitalized but Santa did come visit him in the hospital. Kaiel’s family has to be careful not to bring foreign contaminants into their house so Kaiel’s older siblings aren’t allowed to participate in extra curricular activities with other kids. Fortunately, Kim’s job as a photographer allows her to work in a private studio away from potential contaminants and Kaiel and his siblings have access to at-home education programs. To this day doctors still can’t accurately diagnose Kaiel’s rare sickness so Kim simply describes her son’s condition as his “allergy to life”. On the bright side, doctor’s have now found a combination of antihistamines that help stabilize his symptoms as long as his triggers are avoided.
To support Kaiel’s sensitive diet, the Morritts maintain a 100ft x 200ft garden three miles down the road from their home. The plants and the ground around them can’t be sprayed with any herbicides or pesticides so Kaiel’s family hand-weeds the whole garden to upkeep their crops. Some of the crops they grow in their family garden include: apples, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, raspberries, corn, peas, herbs, phacelia, borage and clover. In order to prepare for last year’s winter season, the family canned 100 pounds of raspberries, 100 pounds of strawberries and 140 cans of applesauce (without added sugar of course) from their garden. Kim and Brian keep bee hives in their garden because honey is a sweetener that Kaiel can tolerate.
During the winter, when her outdoor garden is covered in snow, Kim tends what she calls her basement “grow-op”. In their basement, the Morritts prepare vegetables for the next year’s outdoor growing season including: 55 trays that contain peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, celery and tomatoes. There are also two trays of micro greens and one tray of lettuce. During these winter months Kaiel is regularly admitted to the hospital because he has no access to fresh fruits and vegetables and relies on canned food. Kim’s most recent indoor growing project has been attempting to reverse the fruiting season of her strawberry plants so that Kaiel has access to fresh strawberries in the Winter.
Through it all Kaiel sports a big smile and lives up to his name which means, “little warrior”. He loves to be read to and watch movies with his family (he loves Star Wars). Kaiel still remembers what pumpkin pie tastes like from when his diet wasn’t so restrictive, so his parent’s try and satisfy his sweet tooth with rice pancakes sweetened with honey. His siblings eat the same diet as Kaiel so that no one feels left out, meaning the Morritts can’t spend Christmas or other holidays with extended family because Kaiel can’t eat holiday food. On Christmas three years ago, instead of feasting on holiday treats, the family traveled to Corpus Christi, Texas and camped together on Padre Island. Fresh air and food cooked over a campfire are safe for Kaiel, so most of the Morritts’ vacations involve camping of some sort. Kaiel’s situation has made the Morritt family exceptionally tight knit and all his siblings work hard to protect Kaiel while also making sure that Kaiel feels like he has a normal childhood.
After a Summer hailstorm decimated the Morritt’s pea crop last June, Kim reached out to us for help. Ceres Greenhouse Solutions and Kim agreed that a greenhouse would not only protect their vegetables from rogue hail storms in the summer but would also provide a year-round growing environment that would thrive when the temps reach -40 degrees celsius in the Winter. Kim and Brian want to build the greenhouse in their garden but they don’t have access to power there so the greenhouse has to be as energy-efficient as possible and will ideally run entirely on wind and solar energy. This greenhouse goal coincides with Brian’s dream to build acreage that is 100% sustainable. We provided the Morritt’s with free DIY greenhouse construction drawings to get their project started but they need more help if they are to fully fund a greenhouse project for Kaiel. We believe Kaiel’s health will drastically improve if the Morritt’s have access to a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Also, Kaiel will be safe in the warm environment of the greenhouse and will be able to join his family outside in the Winter time. No more frozen berries, no more canned apple sauce and no more tears over ruined plants.