Every year, colourful flowers dot the brown, wooden planters on MacKay outside the Hall building – a favourite summer hangout spot for students and staff. A new urban gardening initiative by the Concordia greenhouse has now added vegetables like tomatoes, leeks, beets and radishes to the planters.
It’s part of a project called Vert ta Ville, spearheaded by Concordia alumna Laurence Fauteux. After travelling abroad and seeing urban gardening projects, Fauteux decided to develop a project based on an idea IsmaÃ«l Haute-Coeur, an urban agriculture advocate, gave her.
With the city’s short gardening season, vegetables and flowers have to be “started’ indoors and later planted outside as seedlings, or small plants. For Vert ta Ville, Concordia’s greenhouse has grown about 15,000 seedlings, destined for distribution to 25 communal gardens across the city, maintained by people who want to have fresh, homegrown food but who don’t have the space or money to grow their own.
Some of those seedlings were brought right down to the MacKay Street planters. The greenhouse approached Concordia, and got the green light from the Quartier Concordia, which plans to green the downtown campus and make it more pedestrian-friendly.
Greenhouse co-ordinator Arlene Throness said the planting project lined up pretty well with Quarter Concordia’s goals. “It was sort of a call-and-answer. We were looking for some space, they were looking for some greening.” The plants are maintained with the help of volunteers and student interns.
The pilot project received about $15,000 from the Sustainability Action Fund to start it off, with another $5,000 coming from the Concordia Student Union, Jeunes Volontaires, Concordia facilities management, and R4, which donated composting. They are still looking for more funding.
“They took a big risk on us,” said Throness of facilities management – they were tasked with maintaining Concordia’s appearance. With the upcoming Congress 2010 bringing thousands of visitors, the university had to look its best and a group of volunteers managed to plant just in time, the day before Congress began.
“We did an edible landscape,” Throness said, referring to the use of both vegetables and flowers in the planters. The flowers attract pollenators that help both plants flourish.
Sitting next to the planters on a hot Friday afternoon, Concordia employee Lynda Guy, said it made a “nice change-up” from the usual flowers.
“I think everyone is moving towards being green, and I think this is an interesting way to make use of the space here and to produce things that people can actually use, instead of just for esthetics,” she said. Her only question was who was going to be taking the produce.
Throness shrugged off the idea that people might just pick the food off of the planters, though there are no immediate plans for the harvest. Some vegetables will go to volunteers, and the rest may be given to the Frigo Vert or the People’s Potato for preserves or donated to a food bank.
And even if people eat the food right off the planters, that’s okay by Throness. “I think regardless of where the food goes, whether we get a harvest or not, the process for me has a lot of value in it.”
“During Congress, a lot of people told us they think it’s a very good idea,” said Fauteux. “To see young people taking care of the garden, I think that’s something people like to see.”
Throness hopes to plant more seedlings around Concordia.
The project still has money to raise. The greenhouse is selling leftover seedlings June 8 and 9 until 5 p.m. at $1 a plant. The greenhouse is on the 13th floor of the Hall building, accessible by heading from a staircase on the 12th floor.