Green thumbs without green space

Community garden programs in germinating season

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

While Spence Neighborhood Association’s seed starting workshops for its community garden plots are on hold due to COVID-19, the program will be back in action when Winnipeg returns to normalcy.

“Every year, we have a gardening program, which offers plots to community members. Seed starting is preparing plants to be put into the gardens,” Olivia Michalczuk, the environment and open spaces co-ordinator for Spence Neighbourhood Association, says.

The seed starting programs teach folks about starting seeds, soil quality and the steps that go into growing a garden “so that in the future, they can maybe start their own seeds,” she says.

Michalczuk says people will often start far more plants than they need for their garden, but the extras go to good use. “Someone will plant 40 seeds and maybe get six plants as a result, and we’ll maybe sell those other seeds to gardeners in the neighbourhood, and the money from selling them funds the seed starting next year,” she says.

University of Winnipeg students who are not part of Spence or any of the other neighbourhoods with community gardens have community garden space available in Cultivate UWinnipeg, the rooftop garden program that takes place in the greenhouse in the university library.

Daniel LeBlanc, the program’s co-founder, says that when Cultivate began in 2016, “part of our proposal was that there’s not much green space downtown, there’s not really access to grocery stores downtown as much, and people who live downtown and go to the university typically are renting. They may not have balconies, and it’s really hard to find garden space in the middle of the city. It just seemed like such a great idea to use unused, protected open space.

“It’s really safe, too. It's on the roof. It's a closed area,” he says. “A lot of university students don’t own land, don’t own houses, don't have access to land, and that’s why this garden is so useful. Since the beginning, it’s been providing. Students that live in the city have access to this precious possibility to develop this crucial, ancient skill.”

LeBlanc says that while some people see their crops through from planting to harvest, Cultivate is also happy to have people drop in for shorter-term periods or even just for an afternoon. The important thing is giving people access to gardening and learning.

Michalczuk says “people being able to grow their own food and having a respect for the work that goes into it is really lovely. Spending time in the outdoors, getting all the good feels from getting your hands in the dirt, meeting your neighbours, watching progress happen in your garden, utilizing green space in the community, all of those things are positive.

“All of our community gardens are on previously abandoned lots, where there was a home. The City owned the lot, and we turned that lot into a community garden,” she says. “Spence has the least amount of green space in Winnipeg, so (people are) getting to be able to not only experience green space but use it to feed their families, learn a very effective and important life skill and learn from seed to table.”

Published in Volume 74, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 19, 2020)

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