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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Touring California Community Gardens: Fun, Sun and Lots of Ideas

Here are three highlights of my recent adventures in California visiting community gardens from Sacramento to the Bay area:

LaybugSacramento: There are waiting lists four and five years long to get into some of the gardens and if you visit, you’ll see why.  The pride and care that goes into the city’s Parks and Recreation community gardens is evident in the upkeep, the design and the spirited innovation.

There are fruit trees growing, individual gardener plots, even a small vineyard (It is California after all!) and artful ways of conserving water and engaging gardeners. For example, a sculpted cistern shaped like a ladybug collects water from giant metal flower basins.  This is just one of many artful touches.

BayerSanta Rosa:  A bilingual garden at the Bayer Community Farm with signage in Spanish and English. This is a welcoming space with garden plots, a large area with a dozen colorful picnic tables, a labyrinth and a teepee trellis house for children.  The garden space accommodates young and older with raised beds designed for people with disabilities.  One of the nicest aspects of the garden is that it is adjacent to a recreational space that was buzzing with activity as neighbors played sports, skated and rode bikes.

PotHill copySan Francisco:  In most gardens your attention is drawn down to ground level where the vegetables, flowers and herbs grow. In Portero Hill Community Garden, located at the edge of a ridge, your eyes look up and out to see a breathtaking city scape. Perched on land that was once the abode of the goat lady of San Francisco, this is a striking garden and so well tended.  The gardeners here love their spaces and it shows.

More to come….

BTW- Sacramento is agricultural zone 9. They plant tomatoes in March!

 

 

 

 

Lovely Afternoon at Pitney Meadows Community Gardens

Cafe Lena photoIt was wonderful to see some of you at the Cafe Lena concert at Pitney Meadows Community Gardens this afternoon.

Community Gardeners: What a treat to have live music while you work in your gardens, refreshments available and the fun of watching young children enjoy themselves in the sandbox.

This is the good life.

 

Garden Trends: School Community Orchards

 

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 2.50.15 PM.png In recent years, more and more schools are planting orchards and creating outdoor classrooms. Pictured above is music teacher Albie Pickens who started a community orchard at his elementary school in Saratoga Springs, NY. Photo: Natalie Walsh

By Natalie Walsh

Albie Pickens, a fifth grade teacher music teacher at Geyser Road School in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., planted an apple and pear orchard with grant and community funding and created an outdoor classroom available to the entire elementary school.

His goal was to connect students with the natural world, a connection that was fostered in him as a child growing up in his father’s garden and that has stayed with him as an adult.

It’s important for students to understand where their food comes from, how much effort goes into a good crop, and the myriad things that can go wrong, he said.

From the beginning three years ago, his local and school community embraced the idea and funded the trees, picnic tables, mulch, deer fencing and other supplies that made it possible.

And if they didn’t give money, they gave of themselves. “We saved $8,000 by having volunteer labor,” Pickens said, adding that at least 200 people volunteered.

As a classroom, the orchard is one educational opportunity after another, Pickens said noting that he is a self-taught orchardist.

Students learn about insect pests, organic controls, grafting, pruning, harvesting and that growing food may not be simple but it is gratifying.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be a learning opportunity,” he said, adding that sometimes more is learned when things don’t go right.  You can solve one problem only to have another show up.

It’s real life, he continued.  Students learn what is takes to grow fruit, the damage insects can cause, the joy of eating a apple off the tree and connect with their world in the process.

And the orchard has been fruitful. At the Orchard Fest held in the fall, cider pressed from their apples is served.

To maintain the orchard of 20 trees, Pickens has organized an Orchard Team of teachers who are able to use the orchard in their curriculum and a Grow Club before school program for students.

He does most of the maintenance himself. “You can’t give a third grader a sharp clippers.”

Instead, he teaches why fruit trees need pruning, and hands out an illustration of an unpruned fruit tree. Students mark which branches they believe should be eliminated. Adults do the pruning.

In the future, he hopes to bring an arborist to the school who can hold a workshop so more people can learn about pruning fruit trees and help in the orchard.

His students have learned about different fruit varieties, grafting and root stocks and Pickens has some fresh grafted pear trees in a nursery for future planting.

“We have plenty of space,” he said, adding “The community orchard will only get better with time.”

Natalie Walsh, a board member of the American Community Gardening Association, is a master gardener and horticulturist who travels across North America writing articles about community gardening and orchards.  You can reach her at natalie.walsh@communitygarden.org

 

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.