Blog: Growing Food and Community in Northern Ontario
At the end of the season in 2016, after 9 years growing vegetables at our original Urban Farm site, Roots to Harvest was given notice by the landowners that they were going to develop the property into small townhomes. Though this had always been a possibility, it was still hard to not feel a little bit at a loss. For 9 years we had developed that site, built the soil and tended the land there. More than that, we had become part of the fabric of the neighbourhood. That site was a space where people from all walks of life came together and a community was strengthened around it.
Still, the search for a new site began.
When we came across the land at Victoria Park, a large schoolyard behind what had become the Adult Education Centre, we knew we had found the right home. Adjacent to a partner we already worked closely with, embedded in a neighbourhood with mixed-income, age and ethnicity, and on the other side of town from where our other urban farm was, this was an ideal location. As a not for profit organization though, developing the land to become what we needed it to be in order to continue programming was a daunting challenge. The very large site needed a lot of new soil, irrigation, seeds, equipment and infrastructure to get it up and running.
This is exactly when Jones & Associate Insurance approached Roots to Harvest, recognizing the opportunity to partner and reach out to their own partners to get this site up and off the ground. With Jones & Associates acting as an advocate and champion for Roots to Harvest, the application was made to Heartland Farm Mutual's iHeartCommunity Fund to help fund the development of the Lillie St Urban Garden. With the support from Heartland and Jones Insurance, Roots to Harvest was able to develop the new urban garden into a vibrant and productive space that served as the backdrop for our youth employment programming. The youth who came to work daily at that garden, beginning May 23rd (and ending on October 6 ) put everything they had into that space - moving wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of soil, breaking new ground, planting seeds, tending gardens and eventually even harvesting the produce for neighbourhood markets, food aid organizations, schools and other organizations - all the while gaining invaluable employment and life skills that will carry them forward into livelihoods that are healthier, more sustainable and more resilient.
At the same time, the neighbourhood came out in appreciation of the new space-sharing gardening stories, asking questions, bringing their friends and family to wander, play and learn in the community space.
It is because of support and investments from Heartland and Jones Insurance that this space has already become what it has. It is a place of comfort and safety for the youth who worked there, it is a legacy for our city and it is a vibrant sign of renewal and positivity in a city that desperately needs that right now.
Erin Beagle, Executive Director, Roots to Harvest.