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

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!

 

 

 

 

Log of Magnificent Trees: Banyan Tree

The Banyan tree ignites the imagination and has for centuries.

It is easy to see why. It has multiple sinewy, strong, tail-like “trunks” that are actually aerial roots that drape to the ground, overlap and grow together in a mass.

It was commonly called the Dragon’s Tree because people thought the tree’s trunk resembled hanging dragon tails.

As you look at this tree you can easily imagine it as an awesome treehouse, a pirate’s hiding place, a wizard’s home or as the inspiration for a frightening tree that comes alive with a great branches entangling prey like a giant python.

For such a majestic monster, this tree begins life as an epiphyte, a plant that lives off another plant. The seeds lodge in a crevice of the host tree and take hold sending long roots down to the ground. In time, the roots engulf the host tree which dies, leaving a hollow columnar center that is the banyan tree’s core.

The aerial and surface roots mature into thick, woody trunks that spread and can resemble a cluster of trees, but are actually one.  The largest Banyan trees are in India, where it is native, and where it is regarded as sacred and the source of many medicines.

The name comes from a word meaning merchants as it was under the canopy of Banyan trees that Hindu merchants sold their wares.

Here in zone 10, the Banyan is a wonderful shade tree that is a delight to behold.

Nature Drama in a Japanese Garden

Screen Shot 2019-01-19 at 7.45.49 AMHere’s the scenario.

This green heron sat very still, half hidden by a stone.  Inch-long fish wiggled very near in the pond but just out of reach of the bird.  The enterprising heron took wee bits of whatever it found on the stone, dropped them into the water and waited.

The found “lure” dropped into the pond rippled the surface. The heron watched. An unsuspecting fish swam to investigate and became lunch.

Did you know green herons use bait to catch fish?

This certainly wasn’t the highlight of Morakami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray, Florida, but it was a fascinating snippet of nature.

The botanical garden grounds are exquisitely manicured and there is a variety of different types of Japanese gardens including six historical gardens.

Much of the lake shoreline reminded me of the Adirondacks with its boulders and rocky ledges. I’m always considering, “What can I take home from this experience?”

In the Adirondacks, the landscape is wild. Here the wilderness was partially tamed through pruning and placement of pathways, wooden bridges, archways and bamboo fencing.

Mostly pruning considering the boulders are enormous and spans of rock ledge extend into the waters where turtles and koi eagerly put on a show.

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One of the many pleasures of the gardens is the carefully positioned benches set into the scene to give visitors a resting place with long views of expanded spaces and unfolding natural dramas.

There’s a lot to see including art exhibits. And, lunch here is a culinary delight. Check out the website: https://morikami.org

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Road Trip: Lavenlair Farms

 

Where do gardeners go when they aren’t tending their own gardens?

To other gardens of course.

Today, a friend and I traveled to Whitehall, NY to a Lavenlair Farm to take in the blooming lavender fields. The views are breathtaking not only of the rows upon rows of English and French lavenders, but out over the fields to a 200-year-old house and the mountains beyond.

We gathered bouquets of lavender,  made some purchases at the gift shop and then continued our adventure. If you haven’t been there, add it to your list of local places to visit.

It’s charming. Here’s a link: http://www.lavenlairfarm.com/

ByWard Market Shopping in Ottawa

 

I stumbled upon a farmers’ market in the ByWard district while traveling recently in Ottawa, Canada and couldn’t believe my good fortune.

Here I was with gorgeous fruits and vegetables displayed in front of me on a street that also had shops selling French pastries, hot coffee, wines, loaves of fresh breads and cheeses from around the world.

The farmers were friendly. The aromas appealing.

If I lived there, I would shop this street every day.

 

Outstanding Horticultural Art Exhibit in Gatineau, Canada

 

What does this gardener do on holiday?

She visits horticulture masterpieces, of course!

Today I returned from the Mosaiculture exhibit in Gatineau, Canada.

What’s mosaiculture? It’s art with horticulture. This horticultural technique established in Beijing and Shanghai and just beginning to be known on this continent uses sculpture, paint and plants to create massive and breathtaking works of art.

Inside each sculpture is an armature, much like topiary. Some are wire, but some of the interior structural forms are made with plastics that look more like a giant set of Legos pieced together. The viewer never sees this part. It is covered by different plants to create texture, patterns and show coarseness or smoothness.

Big, Bold and Awe inspiring

Think big, very big.  In the last image above of the seated woman, the bottom of the bag on her lap is about 6 feet off the ground. In some cases, it was one large sculpture on view, like the seated woman, but in others you were viewing a diorama depicting a scene of historical significance like a first nation warrior paddling a canoe, or a man panning for gold.

In other cases, there are sculptures within sculptures, like the artwork of dragons and people shown above. What the viewer sees is thousands upon thousands of plants totally covering the form and the surrounding landscape to create living and changing artworks. The exhibit is spectacular and thoroughly amazing.

Each of the 40 or so arrangements is so unusual, so intricate that you will literally stop, stare and wonder, “How did they do this?”

The artworks are on exhibit in Gatineau as part of the country’s celebration of 150 years of Canadian history, values, culture. Admission to the MOSAÏCANADA 150/Gatineau 2017 exhibit in Jacques-Cartier Park is free. But hurry, it closes in mid-October. For more information or directions visit the website

I understand that after the Gatineau exhibition ends, the giant plant sculptures will be moved to sites in provincial and territorial capitals.

 

 

 

Lavender Farm, Ice Cream and Mom

Mom’s visiting.

At 89-years-old she has pretty specific wants, likes and requests.

Today we checked a few off the list that weren’t all that exciting. She wanted to buy new shoes and black pants, and have lunch out.

But one part of our adventure today is worthy of more detail because it was wonderful and because time is running out to do it this season.

Lavenlair Farm

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I drove Mom to Lavenlair Farm in Whitehall, NY.  It is nestled in rolling hills of with views that stretch from the Green Mountains of Vermont to the Adirondacks.

Everyone in the car at one point or another commented on the vista or the soaring hawks.

They have 22 different lavender varieties growing in the field.

High time for bloom is July and gardeners have told me the field is a blue wonder then.  But we saw plenty today to make this a must do next summer.

In the little boutique next to the field we found lavenders noted for culinary use, fragrance, and color and shopped for all things lavender from honey, flower wands, soaps, tea, sprays, lip balm, sachets and more.

Also on site is a hand built “Laverinth” a 100ft diameter, lavender planted, Petit-Chartres meditative labyrinth that the owners, David and Diane Allen, created.

If you want to go, hurry. The farm closes for the season September 3rd, which is next weekend.

Ice Cream

The other highlight of our outing was the Ice Cream Man in Washington County.  Mom ordered root beer ice cream. She loves all things root beer.  And, I think she liked it.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 6.09.55 PM.pngShe ate the whole thing. 🙂  Now she’s napping.

Swimming Hole Photo Shoot

This was a fun day.

A friend and I went to a swimming hole in Bristol, Vermont to shoot photos.

We weren’t there long before we met the guys who make the Gooner Longboards videos like this one.

 

Lots of jumping, splashing and hooting. The director Chris Magoon was shooting images of his buddies jumping off the cliffs using a series of devices he created to extend the camera’s reach and slide along with the action.

He is a young engineer, very creative and serious about capturing the action in a cinema-graphic way. Nice work.

Want to go and take a leap? All you have to do is grab that rope you see in the image below, swing out over the water and let go…._DSC0704_1433

I was told that once you hit the water, you need to get to the sides quickly as the underwater current pulls you towards the waterfall. Not what you might expect. Beware.

Oil Painting

I took plenty of photographs that will be studies for a future oil painting. I took images of leapers, kids standing there waiting to jump, splashers, screamers, swimmers and everyone having fun on the boulders. And one day soon, I will draw these images on a canvas and compose a painting. I will keep you posted.

Today was a very good day.