It is sometimes astonishing how many things we walk past without noticing. I find that this often happens with the Vanier Collective Gardens and the various planters around campus; we are so used to walking past them, and so focused on the class we are walking to, or from, that we don’t even see the wonders that are growing there. Have you ever stopped to look at the peppers, cucumbers, cabbages, tomatoes or zucchinis (those are often gigantic) that are growing in front of the Sports Complex? Or the beans, ground cherries, edible flowers, and kale in the Open Gardens, on the path to the N-Building?
Most of these vegetables started growing in late May, at the Adopt-a-Box planting session where groups had the chance to decide what would be planted in the Open Gardens boxes. For example, the Indigenous Circle chose native plants meaningful to Indigenous cultures, such as strawberries, tobacco, sage, and sunflowers. That planting session was my first day working for the Gardens. The day was sunny and bubbly, and it was a great introduction to the Gardens and its community of volunteers, teachers and staff members who set this whole project going.
This year, the Gardens received two grants: one from Summer Job Canada and one from Entente Canada-Quebec, which aimed to make the Gardens a welcoming place at Vanier. Thanks to the former, two students were hired to maintain the Gardens. Thanks to the latter, I was hired along with another Vanier student, Alexandra, to be a Community Animator. Our role was to find ways to tighten and expand the Gardens community.
Tightening the community meant organizing various activities. For example, we had meetups where we would make a salad out of products from the Gardens, and then have a picnic together. We had potlucks and workshops, on top of our regular gardening sessions. We also had outings, which gave us opportunities to explore other urban agriculture and community projects in Montreal. We visited Concordia’s City Farm School, Santropol Roulant, and the gardens of Cegep Saint-Laurent, Dawson College, and Royal West Academy. We also went to the Botanical Gardens for National Indigenous Day celebrations.
Expanding the Gardens community involved doing outreach. For that, we added new social media platforms, such as Instagram (@vaniergardens) and Tumblr (Humans of Vanier Gardens), to diversify the contents we share online. We also got a new Snapchat Geofilter (try it out!). Another thing we did was hosting tours of the Gardens for summer and intersession classes. Right now, we are also working on a mission statement to be printed on a big outdoor poster in hope to attract passersby’s attention. Our mission comprises the three fundamental aspects of the Collective Gardens: urban agriculture, education, and community.
It is right to say that the Gardens grew not only in terms of plants, but also of community and infrastructure. Indeed, a new spiral Herb Garden was built, and other additions were put in place, namely a gutter system for the shed, and an Insect Hotel. Those were two projects by groups of students as part of their French course Une planète en danger.
What is in stock for the future of the Collective Gardens? For one, we are hosting gardening sessions every Thursday, which are open to everyone, even without experience. During the semester, we continue to encourage teachers to use the Gardens as a hands-on learning environment. Our website (http://www.vaniercollege.qc.ca/collective-gardens/) provides resources to help them incorporate the Gardens in their courses. For the future, we are planning workshops to learn about gardening, for sure, but also about topics like food accessibility, diversity, healthy eating and body positivity. We are expanding the scope of our activities to reflect that community gardening is something bigger than just plants and soil.
I encourage you, don’t be shy: when you walk in front of the Sports Complex, or on the path to the N-Building, take a few seconds to look closely, read the labels, and lift a few leaves; you might see things you never knew were there. Stop for a second, see, smell, touch. This is the essence of gardening: connecting with nature to disconnect from our worries.
Written By: Myriam Lizotte