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Building a land of plenty

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A parcel of land behind Winnipeg Harvest’s warehouse will soon be transformed into an abundant garden.

The non-profit organization is planning to develop an extensive community gardening and greenhouse system at its 1085 Winnipeg Ave. location near McPhillips Street.

Harvest executive director David Northcott said the organization’s membership has long been wondering what the next step is in its quest to feed the hungry.

"We’ve done this for 25 or so years, and the numbers got worse, and then all of a sudden the numbers have just taken off again," Northcott said.

"What do we do differently? What’s the next step?"

Harvest officials have been working on the garden project for the past year and a half. The aim is to reduce dependence on food banks by giving people a chance to grow and harvest their own food.

"For us to reduce, by half, food bank use by 2020, we have to be able to close the loop between food and where food comes from," Northcott said.

The garden project has been dubbed the Winnipeg Harvest Urban Abilities Garden in concept drawings. It is meant to provide people not only with food, but also to teach them valuable skills.

"Our target is to get people more in the loop of things, do far more training with people, more what they call mentorship training for life, mentorship training for job skills," Northcott said.

"That’s the magic, if we can get people feeling better about themselves and getting job-ready."
Judith Tougher, president of the volunteer-based Friends of Gardens Manitoba, said she thinks it is a "fabulous" idea. In her travels inside and outside the city she’s noticed a resurgence in community gardens, which has helped people to rediscover long-lost skills.

She said gardening skills have been lost over time as people stopped gardening. Community gardens, then, provide first-hand exposure which rekindles those skills.

Tougher said community gardens, such as those started by some schools in the province, are also a valuable learning opportunity for youth.

Winnipeg Harvest has a couple of acres of land behind its building. Northcott said two-thirds of it will be devoted to gardening and greenhouse space. The remaining third will not only provide parking spaces, but will also serve to hydrate the plants in the system.

"The parking system is designed to catch water, redirect it to a cistern and move that water out, to water gardens beside the parking system," he said.

Building that parking system is the first "trigger" of the plan, he explained, but in order to start they need to obtain some funding in order to get their development permits in order. The Lord Selkirk-West Kildonan community committee was able to provide $500 in funding.

Getting the early paperwork in order is a big priority, since Harvest is hoping to get started on the parking system before the ground becomes too difficult to work with.

"If it doesn’t work until January, we’ll make it work. We’ll do what we can," Northcott said.

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