Centretown Community Garden – neighbours helping neighbours

Diana Mahaffy, manager of the Centretown Emergency Food Centre and former garden volunteer, and retired horticulturist Brian Ure.

By Susan Palmai and Linda Pollock

Have you ever noticed a dozen or so garden boxes beside Centretown United Church on Bank Street? You have probably passed them many times without knowing about the Community Garden Project.

For several years, volunteers from the church and neighbourhood have been growing vegetables and supplying Centre 507, a city-operated day program located on the second floor of the church, with fresh produce for their soups, sandwiches and salads. The community vegetable garden along with Centre 507 and the Emergency Food Centre, also located in the church, form a complementary hub of services for vulnerable neighbours in Centretown.

Last year, the COVID pandemic put a pause on the garden; this year, we are delighted to report the vegetables are back! The volunteer roster for the garden has been expanded with help from the Central Ottawa Cluster of United Churches (Centretown, Glebe St. James, First United, Kitchissippi, St. Paul’s Eastern and Dominion-Chalmers) and from the Centretown Churches Social Action Committee, which is comprised of 23 churches of all denominations. We actually had more volunteers ready to help than we could accommodate – a lovely problem to have! This prompted a sister garden on the grounds of Glebe St. James United Church to enhance donations to Centre 507.

The Community Garden Network has also supported us by providing clear guidelines for operating a community garden safely during COVID and providing public signage for the safety of volunteers and the public.

Garden volunteers, from left: Linda Pollock from Centretown United Church, Sylvia Satta and Jean Murray, friends of the garden, and Susan Palmai, Glebe St. James United Church.

Under shared leadership from Brian Ure, Linda Pollock and Susan Palmai, volunteers have been harvesting fresh greens and veggies since mid-June. Volunteers weed and water daily. Ure, a retired professional horticulturist, oversees the health and progress of the maturing plants, ensures second crops replace those that have been harvested and guides the volunteers in the care of the plants. We coordinate with the cooks of Centre 507 with twice-a-week harvesting of what we have to donate at a time when they can use it.

Neighbours stop by and ask questions about the garden and signs welcome them to go into Centre 507 to share the bounty. Although it has been a challenge to operate during COVID, we are managing, the vegetables are thriving and we hope to continue in the future.

Susan Palmai and Linda Pollock are volunteers helping to lead the Community Garden Project, a joint gardening venture supplying fresh veggies to Centre 507 and the Emergency Food Centre.

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