The garden plot thickens Maryland Street greenhouse rooted in community and culinary spirit

There’s a new house in the West End with a small footprint and big ambitions.

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There’s a new house in the West End with a small footprint and big ambitions.

The first thousand or so leafy tenants of the 450-square-foot greenhouse on Maryland Street arrived in March and are getting ready to take root in local garden plots. The four-season community greenhouse is a project of the Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA) and, on this particular Thursday evening, it’s full of happy seedlings and busy volunteers.

“Some of them are longtime community gardeners,” says Stephen Kirk, the SNA’s community greenhouse co-ordinator. “And some of them are total newbies… who just wanted to get their hands dirty.”

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Spence Neighbourhood Association’s new year-round greenhouse on Maryland Street is growing plants destined for eight community gardens and beyond.

Larissa Pahl and daughter Amelia are two such newbie volunteers. The pair decided to start helping out in the greenhouse after seeing a callout on social media. For Larissa, who moved into the area last year and is an avid gardener, it’s a chance to give back and meet like-minded neighbours.

“I really like living in this neighbourhood and I want to invest in it in positive ways,” she says. “Gardening is one of my passions and so it was a beautiful gift that it was just up the street from my house.”

For Amelia, the weekly work parties have offered a much-needed opportunity to commune with nature during a disappointing spring.

“To see all of these plants growing and all of the green when everything (outside) is brown and white, is really encouraging,” she says, while tranferring red castor beans into bigger pots.

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Michael Zeray is both volunteer and staff, having spent the last few months helping get the greenhouse up and running.

The greenhouse has been in the works since 2008, when SNA acquired a vacant gravel lot between two brick apartment buildings at the north end of Maryland. Garden boxes and temporary structures have been erected over the years, but more than $130,000 in funding from the province and Red River Co-op has finally enabled the project to come to fruition.

The association has big plans for the rows of vegetables, herbs and flowers soaking up the late-day sun. Some of the plants will be dispersed throughout the eight community garden sites in the neighbourhood, others will be available at SNA’s annual seedling sale; the tomatoes, peppers and onions growing in the middle of the greenhouse will be turned into salsa as part of a youth social enterprise program; and local restaurants have expressed interest in buying excess produce. The greenhouse is also equipped to run through the winter, thanks to radiant in-floor heating.

There’s a bounty of possibilities and a lot to learn.

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press SNA community greenhouse co-ordinator Stephen Kirk hopes their little outfit ‘might make a bigger impact to create jobs and volunteer opportunities.’

“Which one ends up working out the best remains to be seen,” says Kirk, who has experience working on organic farms, in kitchens and grocery stores. “By commercial food-production standards, it’s a very small facility… so it might make a bigger impact to create jobs and volunteer opportunities.”

Michael Zeray is volunteering his time today, but has spent the last few months on staff helping get the greenhouse up and running. He’s worked with SNA’s garden program in the past and is considering horticulture as a possible career path.

“It’s definitely up there,” Zeray says, in between hauling dirt and mixing potting soil. “It’s a very relaxing — almost like a hobby — type of work.”

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Amelia Pahl (left) and Huguette Fleurant are among the legion of volunteers, young and old, experienced gardeners and complete newbies.

By contrast, gardening is something Son Cao found in retirement. The 79-year-old has a small garden at his home down the street, but needs more space to accommodate the crop of cucumbers, squash and bitter melon he’s planning to grow this summer. Until it’s warm enough to work in the community garden box he’s rented, Cao has been coming by the greenhouse to lend a hand and dole out jokes.

“At home, I’m watching TV, going to bed and drinking beer — it’s no good,” he says with a laugh. “(I come) here for exercise, planting and learning.”

As the volunteers toil away in the sunlit greenhouse, passersby stop for a chat and a peek at what’s going on. The small building has quickly become a place to grow community connections alongside fresh, nutritious food.

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press ‘I really like living in this neighbourhood and I want to invest in it in positive ways,’ says volunteer Larissa Pahl (far right) with daughter Amelia Pahl.

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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