Our Place harvests bounty from rooftop garden

A rooftop garden at Our Place is producing a ready supply fresh fruit and vegetables for the agency’s clientele, including people who are homeless and suffering from addictions.

Staff members at the Pandora Avenue facility, which provides daily meals for those in need, started the garden in May and have watched it expand to 65 planters, growing everything from lettuce to chard, strawberries, tomatoes and various herbs.

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“Some things grow a lot better up here than other things,” said Our Place kitchen manager Brian Cox. “I’m just very excited about it. We’ve talked about it for years and it never happened.”

Combined with food grown at its New Roads centre in View Royal and fruits and vegetables from donors, Our Place has enough in its gardens to reduce its produce budget by a third, Cox said.

New Roads gives people a chance to improve their lives through gardening and other activities, said Grant McKenzie, Our Place director of communications.

New Roads resident Lee Morton, who has been there about four months, said gardening and learning about plants — as well as looking after chickens — has been therapeutic for him. “It’s my recovery,” he said. “When I’m out there gardening, it’s hugely meditative for me.”

At Our Place, the rooftop garden is restricted to staff for safety reasons, although fencing could be added in the future, McKenzie said.

He said there have also been discussions about putting rooftop gardens on the tiny homes that provide shelter next to Royal Athletic Park, perhaps for flowers. Our Place manages the site, which features living spaces fashioned from shipping containers.

“It would keep the containers cooler and also add greenery,” he said. “It would benefit the residents. Also, I think whenever you’re growing living things instead of having concrete it’s a benefit for the community at large.”

Our Place users on Tuesday gave the rooftop garden a thumb’s up.

“I think it’s a great idea and it needs to be all over the city,” said Sandy Fisher.

Daescu Ion, who drops in daily for a coffee and lunch, said having extra vegetables on hand makes sense.

McKenzie said Our Place likes to offer vegetarian options in the summer for people who don’t want meat — something the supply of fresh vegetables allows it to offer. “You can’t always do that year-round.”

There is talk about turning the rooftop plantings into a winter garden for the colder months, McKenzie said.

The rooftop garden was created in partnership with FED, or Food Eco District, a food-sustainability initiative under the umbrella of the Synergy Foundation, while the RBC Foundation contributed $10,000 to the project.

Our Place also has a source of fresh vegetables through the Farmlands Trust (Greater Victoria) Society, established to enhance farming capacity in the capital region and produce food for those in need.

Our Place CEO Julian Daly said just because someone is struggling with poverty, addiction issues or metal-health challenges “doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the best meal possible.”

Cox said the rooftop garden has worked out well in its first few months with an array of produce.

“It’s really neat to know where it comes from, how it’s grown.”

McKenzie said the produce couldn’t be more local.

“What’s more local than a couple of storeys above your kitchen?”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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