Community Program in Montreal Builds Connections Through Gardening

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Marie-Anne Viau, urban agriculture manager, at Santropol Roulant in Montreal standing on the roof-top garden where organic produce is cultivated for the Meals-on-Wheels program serving more than 100 people a day.

By Natalie Walsh

One thing I’ve learned in my travels to community gardens throughout North America is that there are many ways gardening connects people.

Some gardens are collection of individual plots, other gardens cultivate as a team and share and still others are even more collaborative where volunteers come together to grow food for the less able in their neighborhood combating both hunger and isolation.

That is the case in Montreal where Santropol Roulant, called “Roulant” for short, grows fresh produce for the local Meals-on-Wheels program serving more than 100 people a day.

 

“We strive to become a living expression of the change we want to see in the world, rather than simply an instrument for that change.”    — Santropol Roulant core principle

 

They define their program as an intergenerational food hub growing, preparing and delivering food with the purpose of increasing food security while providing a unique opportunity for youth and seniors who “do not necessarily cross paths regularly in everyday society to meet and build relationships,” the website reads.

The organization believes that it is these relationships that strengthen “not just our community, but also an entire future.”

And there are many offshoot initiatives underway that aim to bolster similar programs through the sharing of information and practical know-how. One example is a specially designed insulated and waterproof backpack that holds up to 10 meals and allows them to be delivered safely by a bicyclist. Created by the textile prototyping service Protogear, the pattern is available to any Meals-on-Wheels program that wants to use it.

An Unexpected Setting

Located in a very urban environment, Roulant grows vegetables and herbs in large raised beds that anyone can harvest in a pedestrian walkway called Terrassas Roy. This space serves as a “front porch” gathering place for community events and activities.

The organization also grows food in dozens of portable containers that have water reservoirs capable of supplying the plants for two days in the heat of summer.  “Enough for the weekend,” Marie-Anne Viau, urban agriculture manager said.R2 copy

Both of these settings are innovations that serve hundreds of people. But the garden most likely to turn heads and expand minds is the rooftop garden where rows upon rows of vegetables grow and hives of bees have a safe haven.

Roulant puts community as the first consideration and in every regard works to be inclusive and responsive to what is needed in a fast-paced urban environment where neighbors may not otherwise interact.

R4 copyWhile on a recent trip to Montreal, I was fortunate to see Santropol Roulant firsthand. By good fortune, I arrived during their annual open house, where they share what they are accomplishing with hundreds of people who come to enjoy music, shop the vendors, dance and commune. From the youngest playing in sandboxes to the disabled, to families and the elderly, their mission of creating a social fabric was evident.

Connecting Students and Seniors

The concept began over 20 years ago with the idea of feeding those with limited autonomy by bringing together young people from McGill University and local seniors. The idea flourished and many different community-building initiatives sprouted, including story telling, oral histories, recipe exchanges, the sharing of talents and time.

Other initiatives grew as well, including food preservation, a bike shop, a mycology collective, vermicomposting and a general store where preserved goods, t-shirts, honey and organic vegetables grown here and at an affiliated farm are sold.

Viau said that today many of the volunteers still come from the university but many also come from the surrounding community. The sign-up sheet on the main floor had a schedule of chores with volunteer names scribbled in for three-weeks time.  The local participation is strong. Viau believes it is a desire to be part of the culture of Roulant that supports strong involvement.

And there are many ways to volunteer. Roulant is a closed-loop system where food is cultivated, prepared and distributed. Food scraps are fed to the worms, which make compost that is returned to the garden.  “It is a cycle, not a perfect one, but still I think that if every organization was doing their part for reducing food waste and try to make a loop like we do, it can create a really big change for our environment, our health and our food system,” Viau said.

There are literally dozens of ways to volunteer and share talents through workshops, special events and beekeeping.  It is more than weeding and watering. Volunteers learn to pickle vegetables, create spreads and jams, ferment foods and dehydrate herbs and vegetables. Some of these items are sold to raise funds.

And the volunteer system is flexible.

This is key, Viau said as young people often can’t commit to a set time each week. But the option of signing up for a task as schedules allow lets them fulfill their desire to contribute and be part of the Roulant.

Infrastructure

The building at 111 Roy East has a long history, with past lives including a fish depot and artists’ workshop, Viau said. It was renovated in 2011 to accommodate the mission of Roulant with a large kitchen and the strength to carry the weight of the rooftop garden. “15 tons of earth were lifted to the 1500 square foot rooftop of the building and formed into beds on top of a membrane,” the website reads.

A second rooftop garden space is on the terrace and holds over 50 self-watering containers, a small greenhouse and outdoor kitchen for cleaning vegetables. (For information and DIY instruction on self-water containers search youtube’s videos)

Funding

According to the 2018 annual report, about half of Roulant’s financial support come from private and public foundations and government grants. The remainder includes Meals-0n-Wheels programming, peri-urban and urban agriculture, individual donations, corporate gifts and monies generated from their own sources.

“In order to further diversify funding, the Roulant works to develop initiatives that can bring in funding to support other programs and activities” including a catering service, event space rental and frozen meals for purchase by the general public.

Offshoots

In many ways, Roulant has served as an inspiration for ways to expand community building as they grow:

• Les Fruits Défendus, an urban fruit harvesting collective, connects fruit tree owners in the city with volunteers who harvest and care for the trees, adding to food security.

• In 2012, Santropol Roulant began growing food at a certified organic farm in nearby Senneville. It further supports the production of fresh produce for the kitchen, organic baskets and farmers’ market, “making organic produce accessible to all, regardless of socio-economic status, level of mobility, or degree of autonomy.”

• Each season, the farm hires and trains young farmers.

• The rooftop garden was made accessible to everyone with the construction of a new elevator and decking which permits wheelchair access and the use of this space for workshops.

• International connections. The concept of growing food for programs such as Meals-on-Wheels is taking hold in America. In the last decade, similar programs in Iowa and California have taken root.

To learn more visit https://santropolroulant.orgR1 copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blueberry Season Begins at Winney’s Farm

w1We took a drive out to Winney’s Farm and ran into Byron Winney, whose family has been cultivating these 40 acres in Schuylerville, NY since the 1700s.

There are rows upon rows of blueberry bushes  that will be producing for weeks to come, usually until late August. But the biggest treat of the farm is definitely talking to Byron.

Friendly and outgoing, he will share his favorite varieties (Brigitta, Arlen and Aurora), talk about his challenges of growing berries, and share a history lesson about the Dutch families that settled here so long ago.

Birders will enjoy seeing the orioles, which were fluttering about this afternoon. It’s a good year for them, Byron said.

You can pick your own here or buy pre-picked berries. Whichever you choose make sure to walk about, it’s a lovely spot.

In addition to the blueberries, I spotted milkweed. If you see this plant take a whiff of the flower. It is one of my favorite fragrances.

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Berries for another visit.

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New Hampshire Community Gardens Putting People First

We traveled to New Hampshire this week looking at what community gardens in the Granite state are doing.

There was a lot of see.  In total, we went to seven gardens. I saw a garden set up on the grounds of a public library. A nice idea since there is pre-existing infrastructure such as a parking lot, bathroom when the library is open, and a ready source of garden reference materials.

BTW -With the Dewey Decimal classifications, gardening is under 635. 🙂

Neighbors helping Neighbors

In Keene, one garden’s purpose is solely to feed the hungry.  And they do, “Antioch University New England continued to operate the Westmoreland Garden Project on space leased from Cheshire County, where they added a hoop house and were able to produce 1212 pounds of produce for The Community Kitchen in 2018,” according to the Community Kitchen website.

The Community Kitchen provides healthy food to low and moderate income people in the Monadnock Region.

In the ground this year are potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots and more. Wesmoreland.jpg

In Durham,  a 139-acre farm called Wagon Hill,  Screen Shot 2019-06-21 at 6.05.01 PM.pngwas acquired by the town in 1989 “to preserve its scenic vistas, provide for future municipal purposes and preserve open space in order to provide for a healthful and attractive outdoor environment for work and recreation, and to conserve land, water, forest and wildlife resources.”

We were there on a rainy day and still dozens of people were out hiking, taking photos, walking their dogs, running, and enjoying the land in and around the community garden.  It was bustling.

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The community garden is nicely maintained and thoughtfully laid out with ample space for wheelbarrows in the pathways. If you look closely, you can see the seedlings of many different vegetables and herbs in the carefully weeded and mulched beds.

This was a very inviting garden with picnic tables, an arbor made from branches and fabulous field views. Definitely a place to come, gather, garden, put your feet up and enjoy.

They use a plastic mesh fence to keep out deer. Discreet, yet effective, it is barely noticeable and doesn’t interfere with the great views.

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North Hampton Community Garden

Not far away, in a community garden in North Hampton, the atmosphere is quite different. The garden here is on a busy road and the highway can be heard and seen in the distance.

Even so, the garden was relaxing and felt homey.

The gardeners who grow food here created “backyards” in their plots with chairs where they could sit and watch the garden grow. I suspect the fencing around some plots also helps keep bunnies out of the beds as I startled several as I walked around.

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One of the great pleasure of visiting community gardens is seeing how different they are and how they meet the needs of those they serve.

braches.jpgEvery garden has a personality from the rustic to the formal.

And I always learn something and make notes of features that I may use in a garden one day.  Sometimes it is an old idea seen in a new light. For example, branches for pea supports.

As I looked at this row, I was taken by how attractive it was and how inexpensive it would be to create.

Children could gather the branches and stick them in the ground.

And peas are a nice big seed for young fingers to plant.

Another plus is that sugar snap peas are sweet to eat right off the vine.

If you have a community garden you think I should visit, let me know.

I’d love to come see you in the garden, Natalie

Eartheasy Article on Natalie’s Community Gardening Work

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Click to read more: Eartheasy

Thank you to all the wonderful people I met from coast to coast who are creating community gardens and orchards. I am grateful for the time and information you shared with me.

See you in the gardens, Natalie

Creating an Enchanting Fairy Village

fairy elements

Pitney Meadows Community Gardens is lucky to have artist Jess Clauser expanding the fairy village near the pergola.

The project started two years ago in a 4×8 plot and from the start captivated an audience of adults and children. It grew and grew from a plot to a flower border and now is expanding even more. Magic happens.

It is still under construction, but you can already see the imaginative space Clauser is creating.  This summer, houses and fairies will work together in preparation for a fairy fest in September.

What makes a fairy garden especially spellbinding? Mushrooms, branches in unusual shapes, moss, and lots of charming details. Anything from acorn caps to tree stumps can be incorporated.

 

 

 

Art Flourishes in Community Gardens

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A huge snake made of sandbags covered with concrete and painted provides seating and a setting for imaginative play at the Soutside Community Garden in Sacramento, Calif.

Gardens and art are inseparable partners supporting and enlivening each other.

There’s magic in both.

And in some of the community gardens I have visited, artists have done great work creating masterpieces that bring people in, surround them with beauty and offer them the opportunity to connect with one another and with nature.

Community engagement is what community gardens are all about, right?

I have often said you don’t need to be a gardener to enjoy the gardens. There’s so much more than vegetables and flowers growing and being nourished.

The creative expression can be playful like a maze to wander or a half-wrecked boat to pretend to be the captain of the seas. It can be a shelter of branches that provide a shady tunnel to explore or a sunflower house big enough for children’s programming.

I have seen sprinklers in the shape of great trees, concrete snake seating made of sandbags and painted with happy colors, and welcoming hide-aways such as bean pole tipis.

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Art can be functional and beautiful like this entrance gate to the Peralta Community Garden in Berkeley, California. At some gardens, the entrance gates are sculpted metal flowers and vines. I have seen fences and arches made of garden tools, tile sundials and mosaics depicting hawks, flowers and insects.

I have lots to share from my travels and I’m hoping you’ll share too.

If your community garden has art incorporated into the landscape, please send me a photo. I’d like to start a regular feature showing this creative side of community gardens around the world.

Thank you. Natalie