by Ilana Guslits
This summer over 30 Urban Roots Youth volunteered in our school gardens and at our farmer’s markets to get a real sense of what it means to be a market gardener. They helped care and cultivate many summer crops, and learnt valuable horticultural skills, from seedlings to harvest. We completed our 15-month Organic Certification process and are now proud to say that both Sprucecourt PS and Winchester PS School Garden produce is Certified Organic through EcoCert! Our school gardens thrived this summer, full of flowers and produce to go towards our markets as well as towards our children’s programs. We used lots of our own produce to make snacks like fresh pesto from herbs in the garden, and the youth got to bring home lots of fresh vegetables to share with their families with the pride that they helped grow it with their peers. Favourite garden treats this year were mouse melons, raspberries, dragon tongue beans and cherry tomatoes.
We also had a wonderful learning opportunity for the youth to experience working on a rural Ontario farm. Through the Friends of the Greenbelt Fund, in partnership with Forsythe Family Farm, we were able to take over 20 youth on 4 field trips to Uxbridge to learn about the struggles and successes of Ontario farmers. We learnt about beekeeping, animal husbandry, mechanical farming, and had Q & A’s with the farm owner about the life of a rural farmer and how to adapt to the current economy. Most importantly we learned about the Forsythe’s Giving Garden, an acre of their farm dedicated to growing produce for free for people or organizations to harvest to use to serve their communities. We harvested over 600 lbs of produce from the Forsythe’s Giving Garden that would have otherwise become compost, as this wonderful program is very underutilized. We highly recommend any individuals or organizations with the ability to travel to the farm to access this amazing resource.
This summer we attended the Taste of Regent Park Market, the Cabbagetown Farmer’s Market, as well as some pop-up markets on Parliament st. and at the CSI Dundas. The youth really enjoyed the marketing, community engagement, and entrepreneurial skills they gained from volunteering at the markets. We also built upon our social enterprise by selling our garden produce to Paintbox Bistro and Catering and Show Love Cafe, as well as working on our pollinator gardens on Parliament St. for the Cabbagetown BIA and animating the space with pop-up events centered around pollinator education. Market favourites were our herbal infused lemonade, green beans, and a medicinal dried flower and herb tea mix.
Our youth also collaborated with the seniors in the Regent Park community to cultivate a plot in the Big Park community garden. We grew medicinal plants in the garden, including bitter melon for diabetes, lemon grass to reduce inflammation, and aloe for digestion and skin. We also had local chef, Lily Hu, cook with our youth and seniors twice this summer for delicious pizza parties using the wood-fired bake oven in Regent Park. It was lovely to have the youth socialize and serve the seniors a delicious meal made with vegetables and herbs they helped to grow. The teamwork, enthusiasm, and community engagement that our Urban Roots Youth volunteers showed this summer was very inspiring and we can’t wait to see how these future leaders will continue to grow! Thanks to LUSH Charity Pot, the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration’s Multicultural Community Capacity grant, the Peter Gilgan Foundation, and others for making it possible.
Happy Autumn to all!