From the ground up
Winnipeg’s food desert is getting an oasis.
Just south of the NorWest Co-Op Community Health building (103-61 Tyndall Ave.) lies the beginning of what will become the NorWest Urban Farm, a grant-funded pilot project that could be the first of several community farms across the city.
The nearly-three-acre space behind Billy Mosienko Arena is occupied by geese, ground squirrels, a garden and a medicine wheel for growing herbs. Further in to the space, what will soon be a wildflower garden is covered with a protective tarp for the moment. It isn’t much right now, said Vania Bowman, co-ordinator of the project, but the ball is rolling. Eventually, this space will be a home of local agriculture within city limits.
“Being located in a food desert is (like having) to decide whether you’re paying the rents, your prescriptions or buying food,” said Bowman. “Nobody should have to deal with that.”
“We’re hoping to help with that…we make sure that if people need food, they get it.”
This will be the second summer the farm has been around and seeding of this year’s vegetable crops starts just next week. They broke ground last year. Now, it’s all about expanding.
By the end of this summer, the growing area, about half-an-acre big, will be shifted and trees — both native and not — will line the edges. There will also be a food forest, Bowman said, which will include trees, shrubs and perennials spread throughout the farm grounds.
Then, by fall, they’re hoping to double the amount they’re able to produce on the land.
There are set plans for infastrcuture to occupy the space in the next five years, as well, including a space for counselling and a greenhouse spaces.
These are big plans — but in order to get to where they need to be, NorWest relies on (literal) helping hands from all sorts of places.
Just starting up for the year are Farm Fridays, a weekly volunteer drop-in that lets anyone interested lend a hand and ask Bowman and co. any questions that come to mind.
“A lot of people wander by and ask, ‘what is this place?’” Bowman said. By asking them to come to Farm Friday, interested people have the chance to find out as the farm moves along. Furthermore, they can be a part of the community development.
Bowman is running the show with help from others at the centre, but the project is very volunteer-dependent. Similar to last year, the Urban Farm project will soon be welcoming a group of summer students from the nearby Shaughnessy Park School.
“We need hands in the soil… everything we do at the (centre) weighs heavily on volunteer help, and this is no different,” she said.
Alongside this project, NorWest’s Community Food Centre (also part of its Tyndall location) offers community lunches (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from noon to 1:30 p.m.) to area residents (or anyone interested), offering meals made with healthy ingredients that may not be accessible otherwise. The hope is that urban farm project will further instills the sentiment of accessible health for all — perhaps all over the city in the future.
“If you’re eating healthy, your mind’s healthier, and just your overall quality if life is improved,” Bowman said. “That’s one thing that we do hear a lot from the people who come here… I think being able to offer it to more communities would just be a huge benefit.”
Volunteers are encouraged to participate anytime, but Bowman said Farm Fridays will give them a chance to talk to the team and educate themselves on the new space.
Those interested can visit online at www.norwestcoop.ca or call 204-615-3117.