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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girl Scouts Grow Food for Franklin Community Center Pantry

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 10.55.38 AM.pngBrownie troop 3031 has a plot in the Pitney Meadows Community Gardens and recently donated green beans to the Franklin Community Center’s food pantry.

Troop leader Jen Kirchhnerr has found that recycled plastic containers are a great way to deliver the beans and other vegetables to the pantry.

These are the sort of container that strawberries, blueberries and the like are typically sold in at the supermarket.

Kirchhnerr cleans and washes the containers and reuses them when harvesting for the food pantry.

“They are a convenient size for handing out to a family,” she said.

It’s a good tip. If any gardeners have containers like these and would like to share them, you can leave the cleaned containers in the garden shed. We will use them when harvesting and sharing.

Thanks Jen for your tip!Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 10.55.19 AM

Saratoga Bridges Plants a Bed

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 11.48.36 AMSaratoga Bridges, an organization that enables people with disabilities to live enriching lives, came to the Pitney  Meadows Community Gardens this morning and planted seeds for green beans, mache* and Peppermint Swiss chard.

Working with Garden Director Natalie Walsh, each person planted according to the seed packets instructions, patted the planted seeds for good soil contact and watered well. In the weeks to come, different groups from the organization will care for the plants in their raised bed.

*Mache is a dark salad green, rich in Vitamin C, that grows close to the ground in rosette-shaped bunches that have elongated leaves.  It is a favorite salad green in Europe.

 

 

 

Plan B

This morning I went to the farm thinking I was going to mark out the 8×12 beds so the gardeners of these large plots could start planting today.

To my dismay, the area was flooded. Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 8.40.37 AM.png

Our farmer, Bill Pitney didn’t think this was an issue we could resolve quickly.

So we are moving to Plan B.

We will create the 8×12 in-ground plots in the northwest corner (the area I’ve been calling the berry patch). The area is higher, has water (controlled from a faucet) and will provide gardeners the opportunity to get plants in the ground swiftly.

Gus, Heather and Margie are in the garden staking these plots now. Give a hand if you can.

I will be in the garden Tuesday morning starting at 8 a.m.

Sorry to the gardeners of the larger plots for the delay.

We are truly very close now.

Natalie

Another Row in Place

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Four of the 24-inch high beds and two of the 4×8 raised beds were set in place today thanks to the hard work of Jim G., Bill, Kim, Jesse, George, Rich, Heather and yours truly.

Then just after four p.m, participants in the “Grow the Tallest Sunflower Contest” arrived and planted Mammoth Sunflower seeds.  Pictured below are Isabella and Kaitlin.

There’s still time to enter the contest.  The seeds, which are free, can be planted tomorrow between 3 and 5 p.m. Prizes for the tallest sunflower will be awarded in September.  Can you grow the tallest one?  Try and find out!

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First Beds Filled with Soil!

Inch by inch, the garden is coming together. Six beds were filled with soil and are ready to be planted.  These first beds are assigned to: Andrew Shaw, Kemp and Nancy Hicks, Anne Curtin, Mark Suprunowicz, Richard and Cynthia Hart,  and Heather von Allen. You can begin to plant!

What else did we do today?

  • We built more raised beds. There are now 31 ready to go into the garden. And tomorrow, with the help of volunteers, more will be filled with soil. Tomorrow evening, I will connect with their new caretakers so they can get plants in the earth.
  • We planted another row of sunflowers.
  • We prepared the area where participants in the “Grow the Tallest Sunflower Contest” can plant Mammoth sunflower seeds starting tomorrow.
  • We laid fabric down then gravel and stone dust in the first pathways.
  • We weeded.
  • We dug a trench for a waterline on the west side of the shed to wash tools, vegetables and ourselves after a day in the soil.

Pretty impressive. Thank you Heather, Kay, three different Jims, Rich and Rich T.,  John, Cynthia, George, Cathy, Judy, Gracie, Brad, Paul, Bill, Jeanmarie, Murray, Arliss, Robert C., Kemp and Nancy, Jesse. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out.

Tomorrow,  there are tasks for volunteers. If you can, please come help.  We need painters to paint the second coat on the barn siding, helpers setting the beds and troughs in place, people to rake the soil in the beds and the gravel in the pathways, and planters to plant another row of sunflowers.

Our plan is to begin at 9 a.m. and work until it rains. Right now, the forecast calls for rain around noon.

I am truly grateful for any time you can give.

Like the song says: “row by row gonna make this garden grow.”

 

 

 

 

We need Volunteers Today!

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.03.42 AMSix raised beds are in place and we need helpers to staple landscape fabric around the base as shown in the photo below.  Even if you can only give us an hour, it will help.  Please come and volunteer. We will be in the garden from 1 p.m. to at least 5 p.m.
This step moves us closer to getting the pathways down and the soil in the beds.  As of this morning, we have 25 raised beds built. Rich Torkelson will be there this afternoon moving us forward.  Yay!

Bring gloves and a staple gun if you have one. Hat and sunscreen, too.

Thank you.   Our volunteers have been incredible and we appreciate each and every one of you.

Great Plants

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 11.52.02 AMRobert Curry has grown tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and eggplants that he is selling to the gardeners for $1. each.  The plants are beautiful, robust and healthy. This is a very generous offer.

Right now, the plants are near the silo.  You can pay Robert directly or add your money to the Robert C. honor jar near the plants.