The first day of real heat in Montreal aligns with the day of my visit to the offices of Bouffe-Action de Rosemont. The sun is warm and shining brightly. The leaves are coming out on the tree branches. A few flowers are blooming in the flowerbeds. A number of passers-by are wearing their warm-weather clothes and their sandals at nearby Lafond Park..
Three young women are accompanying me to tell me about how a family group in a garden project run by Bouffe-Action works. Estelle (the mother and her two daughters age 6 and 8 have been involved in the l’Entre-Gens family group for a number of years), Annabelle, the garden project coordinator, and Magdalena, the organization’s director. Two planning meetings were already held for the group earlier this month, during which the parents chose the vegetables and seeds and also prepared the vegetable garden plan. A final planning visit will consist of recreating the plan on site at the garden and peacefully preparing the ground.
Although the fathers are welcome, it’s most often the mothers who get involved in this project, which enables them to establish new connections within the group. The latter becomes an oft-renewed opportunity to socialize during the season. The group meets at the garden once a week, on Tuesdays, for a three-hour period to work together on the preparing, tending and eventually harvesting. On those days, the children are entrusted to the care of Daniel, the monitor, who carries out small projects with them: painting garden containers; container gardening; tasting edible vegetables, plants and flowers; hunting for bugs; preparing magic potions, etc. One extra hour of work per family is required during the week for more specific care, usually watering.
Thirteen families participate in the l’Entre-Gens project, but Bouffe-Action de Rosemont coordinates eight community gardens, only a few of which are reserved for families. In total, over 100 gardeners are involved. Not all the lands are suitable for accommodating families. They must provide arable plots in addition to play spaces and certain safety parameters. At l’Entre-Gens, the plots reserved for vegetable gardens measure 116 square metres. They are adjacent to lawn areas with large trees, and everything is fenced in, which enables the children to play freely without worrying the parents and monitors.
The year 2016 was the organization’s 15th anniversary and, for the occasion, a cookbook with healthy, nutritious and economical recipes was put together, which was distributed mostly to the garden participants, but also to those of the collective kitchens. Because they are the two main components supporting the programs of Bouffe-Action de Rosemont, which operates in the field of food security.
FDG supports the gardening activities of the family groups, and they have finalized several workshops that the families can register for during the season. Happy Saturday is for a trip to the big city. In 2016, for example, they visited the rooftop gardens at Santropol, after which a large picnic was organized.
Workshops on canning, dehydration or nutrition are also offered. For those, the kitchen workshop participants are mixed in with those of the garden participants and, sometimes, that generates interest and leads to new registrations in the other activities.
To spark the little people’s interest, they often start with container gardening. The growing is easier and is introduced without much difficulty. This is the strategy adopted in some of the area’s low-cost housing complexes, where containers placed in the middle of the yard generate respect and admiration among the elders for the little people’s work.
Container gardening is also offered to people with reduced mobility and to seniors who don’t have or no longer have the energy to get involved for six months, and thus have their efforts facilitated at all stages of a garden: planting, watering and gathering.
In all cases, the harvests are recorded and weighed. So, the eight groups were able to harvest 1,300 kg of vegetables last summer. Almost all of it is cooked as it is harvested, recipes are shared, and a large harvest festival closes off the season with a feast organized for the occasion.
This is a chance for these families to learn a great many things and have all sorts of experiences: the satisfaction of sowing small seeds that will provide fruits and vegetables at home, develop a palette for tastes and flavours, develop patience and perseverance, enhance their social life and experience mutual assistance as part of group work, become interested in soil enrichment, companion planting and their connection with such things as the insect world… All of which are then easily transferable lessons for living better in society.
(…) Over the years, the garden has become a member of the family, is a regular part of our week, brings us close to the land… and is also very helpful when it comes to “toughing out the winter until spring”. It’s not a carrot I have at the end my stick for spending the winter, it’s an entire garden, and I’m already really looking forward to next spring!!! (…)
Stéfanie, Narayan (age 6) and Figinie (age 3)