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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Signs of Spring in a Community Garden

strawberriesWho doesn’t love this time of year?

Everything is fresh and new and there is so much promise everywhere you look.

Even weeding feels good after a long winter away from the garden.

But don’t be tempted to plant tomatoes and peppers just yet in you live in a cold climate. It’s just too soon.  Wait a few more weeks until frost is no longer a danger. But you can plant lettuces, peas, spinach and other cold tolerant plants.

And if you just can’t wait, remember what Thomas Jefferson said: If you don’t lose a few plants each Spring, you planted too late.

He was motivated. Jefferson and his neighbors used to have a contest to see who could get fresh peas to the table first.  The winner held dinner and served, you guessed right, the early spring peas.

Work on the Community Gardens Shed Progressing

Work on the community gardens shed is coming along and many hands have helped.

Rich T. restored the windows. He and Chris framed and installed the windows and door. George W. put in an entry set to secure the door from blowing with the wind. Volunteers from the Navy primed the interior and siding. Chris C. advised on what paint to use. Today, Tom G. put plywood in the former windows on the east wall. And tomorrow, I paint.

The color is white so the interior will be bright. If anyone wants to help, I will be there around 9 a.m. and hope to get one coat done Sunday and another Monday morning.

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. – A.A. Milne

Once the paint dries, we can begin to organize the tools by hanging them on the east wall and tracing an outline around each tool onto the wall. That way we will all know what belongs where and if something was left in the gardens. You know, a place for everything and everything in its place.

While the east wall will be dedicated for tools, the west side will have a potting bench, storage and a library. We are still looking for a small cabinet with doors that we can use for books, a seed exchange area, a magnifying glass, etc.  If you have one that is 4 feet tall or less to donate, let us know. Small is good as space is limited. We will put it to good use.

Pigeon Update: As of yesterday, one pigeon baby had flown the coop but not the other. I’m hoping the young bird leaves soon so we can finish priming and move forward.  We are letting the birds rule the roost until they fledge. But truly, I hope they are close to leaving. Pigeons might be where the expression “dirty bird” came from as in meaning something that soils its own nest. Yuck.

Composting Lecture in the Garden

MarciaMartin

Marcia Martin, master gardener, started our summer lecture series with a lively and informative talk about composting last evening.

The Pitney Meadows Community Gardens is composting its plant debris and will be collecting plant matter for composting in bins placed between the shed and the barn.

More lectures are planned.

On August 16, a class on Using Herbs to Make Our Food POP! with Kim London, chef and PMCF Board Member. Come hear how a local chef uses herbs to enhance favorite dishes.

Later in August, Murray Penney will lead a class on tomato growing. The date for this class is August 23rd. The lecture will be followed by a tomato taste testing with Chef Rocco Verrigni.

On Aug. 31 – Your Garden is a Sensational Success…. Now What?  Pattie Garrett RD and Nicole Cunningham, RD will discuss familiar and some unfamiliar ways to prepare and preserve your bounty. There’ll be taste testing and recipes to enjoy.

All lectures start at 7 p.m. and will meet at the Pitney Meadows Community Farm. No registration necessary.

 

 

The Garden At the Start of Summer and Now

This is what our gardens looked like on June 24th.  The field was just being graded, volunteers were busy building raised beds, placing them in this field and filling them with soil. It took several weeks for all the beds to be made and placed.

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And here’s what the garden looks like now. What a difference a month has made. 

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Good Morning in the Garden

Screen Shot 2017-07-22 at 12.49.37 PMIt was a very pleasant morning in the community gardens.

Bailey and Esmee came to water and weed.  Jessica and Margie thinned annuals and transplanted along the edge of the sunflower garden.

Margie anchored the pumpkin patch sign Judy made into the ground. Paul did the last bit of the irrigation on the northwest side of the community gardens before going to work on the high tunnel.

Tom and Jim were busy nailing siding to the barn and Chris C. painted at a steady pace. George drilled drainage holes in an old trough and then planted it with flowers. He also help with the making of the scarecrow as did Judy B., Bailey and Esmee. Bill came over and gave us a pair of jeans for the scarecrow to wear.

All the while, gardeners came and took care of their plots; weeding, watering and saying hello. They shared ideas and tools. Some folks – like Kim and Karen – helped to water the newly planted sunflower area and the cosmos bed along the back of the garden.

There was community in the garden today. You got to love that.

Geologist Update on Rock Found in Garden Topsoil

A couple of weeks ago Kim Fonda found this rock in the topsoil.  green rockWe took images and sent them off to the New York State Museum geologist Dr. Marian Lupulescu.

His first reply asked us to see if it scratched glass.

Kim tested and it did. That told us it was quartz. We let him know and this was his second reply:

“The quartz sample could come from a pegmatite (igneous rock with very coarse crystals) or from a quartz vein from the metamorphic rocks. Both are common in Saratoga County.

“I think that the sample you have is from a pegmatite because of the black quartz (we call it smoky quartz) that is common in pegmatites. The green stuff could be the result of some lichens or algae infiltrated in the crystal through microscopic fractures.

“It is possible to find more rocks like this in the soil.” he wrote in an email.

It’s fun to know.  Keep an eye open, there may be another.