The art of veggies and social empowerment

How rooftop farms contribute to community resilience and food security.

On a rooftop nestled in the Plateau Mont-Royal, volunteers are hard at work, like bees buzzing around a garden. The rooftop is lush with greenery, growing fresh produce for the local community. Or at least it will be in a few weeks’ time.

Santropol Roulant is a non-profit organization that grows food on their building’s roof for the local community. They cook it in their kitchen, deliver the meals to those who need them most, and compost part of the scraps thanks to The Compost Collective’s worm farm in the basement. 

“Initially, it was really like a kitchen and delivery program that focused a lot on youth volunteering,” said Adrienne Richards, the gardens and accessible agriculture coordinator at Santropol Roulant. 

The Roulant was started by the team at Café Santropol on St-Urbain Street. They realized there was a need for a meals-on-wheels service that catered to isolated people, elderly people, people with accessibility issues, and others who don’t have access to sufficient quality food to meet their needs.

According to Richards, about half of their rooftop farm’s produce goes to their meals-on-wheels service, and they currently deliver about 100 to 120 meals per day to clients, referred to them by health and social workers.

The company MicroHabitat was co-founded in 2016 by Alexandre Ferrari-Roy and Orlane Panet in Montreal to promote ecological farming in urban areas. Their role is to help their clients green their buildings, whether they be industrial, commercial, or residential. While philanthropy came first at Santropol Roulant, gardening was the starting line for MicroHabitat.

The initial goal for MicroHabitat was simply to build ecological urban farms, but their focus shifted to food security when clients started donating their produce to local organizations.

“I was actually very happy and thrilled,” Ferrari-Roy said. MicroHabitat decided to facilitate the process for their clients by creating the Urban Solidarity Farms program. “It’s the bridge between them and the food banks,” he added.

The Urban Solidarity Farms help their clients donate their harvest to organizations like Accueil Bonneau, Dans La Rue, Le Chaînon, and others. Roughly half of their projects are aimed toward giving access to healthy and fresh herbs and vegetables to local food banks. MicroHabitat also donates part of their profit to the Breakfast Club of Canada and No Kids Hungry in the United States.

Ferrari-Roy explained that food banks often don’t receive fresh produce and normally only have access to lower-quality food or non-perishables. “We see the impact of our work when we’re donating,” he says. “It can definitely make someone’s life better to eat something fresh and tasty.”

While these rooftop farms give locals access to fresh and healthy produce, volunteers also benefit from the experience. “People are committed and willing to give so much of their time and energy because we’ve created a meaningful system,” Richards said. 

Meanwhile, at Concordia University, the mind.heart.mouth initiative started by researcher Andrea Tremblay looks at gardening as a vessel to build community resilience. Tremblay quickly noticed positive impacts on volunteers through her doctoral research around the buzzing network of people tending to the garden.

Tremblay recalled a volunteer who was in cancer remission a few years ago who had never grown food before. When Tremblay saw a ripe cucumber on its vine, she decided to save it for her. “She told me she’d never seen a cucumber grow,” Tremblay said. “When I showed it to her, she just burst into tears and said that was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.”

The woman had been very shy until that moment, but everyone at the garden came to hug her. “It really sealed the small community of the garden,” Tremblay said, adding that people look forward to coming and look out for each other.

mind.heart.mouth collaborated with Concordia’s PERFORM Centre so physical therapy patients could participate in gardening to help their physical and mental health. 

“Being in the garden and working towards growing food for food banks and community organizations is giving everybody in this garden a real sense of empowerment by contributing to the community,” Tremblay said.

Through her research, Tremblay learned that gardens are a great tool to create social opportunities and learn together in a safe and inclusive space while also contributing to food security. 

“A garden is conducive to creating community,” Tremblay said. “You’re both just there to look for bugs and conversation is made easy.”


Arts Festival

Art Souterrain: an atypical contemporary art festival that redesigns Montreal’s underground pathways

An exhibit with no borders, spread across five Montreal locations

Festival Art Souterrain returns this year for its 15th edition. From March 18 to April 9, thousands of spectators can see a variety of artworks and performances throughout Montreal’s large underground network.

This non-profit organization was founded in 2009. Every year, they exhibit international contemporary art institutions, artists, and the architectural and cultural legacy of downtown Montreal’s underground city.

Exclusive to North America, Art Souterrain leads artworks out of artistic institutions and merges them into the daily lives of citizens. The organization aims to create a unique and distinctive concept in the realm of performing arts by facilitating exchange, diverse tools, and cultural mediation.

For this edition, the organization has commissioned Quebecois artists Eddy Firmin, Jean-François Prost, and Brazilian artist Ayrson Heráclito to oversee 30 artistic projects on this year’s theme “The Party.”

“From all the night and the city offer to our capacity for exploration, the party rises up and asserts itself, occasioning fortuitous encounters,” described Prost.

This year, the festival takes place in five different buildings in downtown Montreal. 

Entry points are situated at Place Ville Marie, Montréal World Trade Centre, the Jacques Parizeau Building, Palais des Congrès de Montréal, and Place de la cité international.

To make your journey easy, festival organizers have placed signs at the entrance of the buildings. They also provide a map on their website.

Student Life

Let’s talk about trash baby!

“One day, I was browsing Reddit and I saw a lot of posts that were tagged #TrashTag; it was a picture of before and after of a trash cleanup,” said Lucas Hygate. “I saw that and was like ‘hey, I can do that.’ Then I thought I’ll do it way bigger and now it’s TrashTalk.”

Hygate, a 21-year-old philosophy student at Concordia, began TrashTalk Montreal, or TrashTalk for short, earlier this year. The idea started in February and has massively evolved from the stages that began in Hygate’s basement.

“Now, we’ve grown and evolved into a much larger, official organization that really tries to cater towards hosting these cleanups and inviting people to an event that is really something that we do, rather than just for helping the earth, the motivation is really to try to have some fun with it,” said Hygate.

Photo via @trashtalkmtl

The project came into fruition in April after floods devastated many communities in the West Island. Hygate recalls the intersection of Pierrefonds and Saint-John Boulevards was so flooded that it resembled a lake more than a street.

The organization is a non-profit that aims to pick up trash in public areas that’s been discarded and collecting for years – but why call it TrashTalk?

“One night I was telling my friend Sam about this idea, he was driving me home,” said Hygate. “Suddenly, he looks at me and goes ‘Lucas! I have the perfect name for you: TrashTalk’ and then it was TrashTalk.”

“We want to make sure it’s not just superficial talk, we actually want to turn that talk into action,” said Kayleigh Tooke. Tooke is the VP of communications for the Concordia club of the same name that was started on Oct. 7 to facilitate the non-profit’s activities, according to Hygate. She also works with the nonprofit by trying to connect to people to get involved with the organization. Also members of the nonprofit are Malcolm Adamson, Nicholas Tsibanolis and Nicolas Vyncke.

“Half of the name is Talk: more than just cleaning it up, it’s preventing it for the future,” said Angad Malhotra, a computer engineering student at Concordia. Malhotra is one of TrashTalk’s members, taking care of the visual design and marketing aspect. He and Hygate know each other from John Abbott College, where Concordia has a sister club, but it wasn’t until TrashTalk that the two became closer.

“I didn’t talk to Angad three years prior but I still had his number in my phone,” said  Hygate with a laugh. “We don’t remember why. And now we’re friends.”

Diego Rivera, the VP External in charge of event planning for TrashTalk Concordia, is also a philosophy student, which is how he met Hygate and decided to join the club. He spent time in Cambodia over the summer and heard about Tijmen Sissing, the Trashpacker who backpacked across Asia picking up trash.

“Out of that, I really wanted to start some kind of movement that, when I met Lucas, I was like ‘holy shit, this is perfect’,” said Rivera.

Photo via @trashtalkmtl

On the note of international trash cleanup, 18-year-old Joseph Poulin, who recently joined the club after meeting Tooke, was also inspired. During his trip to Kigali, Rwanda over the summer, townspeople would congregate every week or so and clean the community. Not only has the movement inspired him to join TrashTalk to pick up trash, it has also inspired him and those around him to create less trash.

Native to a small town near Quebec City, Poulin’s family owns a sugar shack. “We started a garden right next to it so that reduces our amount of trash,” said Poulin. “Instead of going to the grocery store and buying packages, we produce our own stuff, like fruits and vegetables.”

“On the first cleanup, it was me and my friend Nick,” said Hygate. “We were going out and we went to this place right next to this very popular commercial area. We looked at it and we started picking up. We cleaned for a solid half an hour or so, not too long, and we found a $10 bill – our first piece of good karma came out of the very first cleanup.”

Since its founding, TrashTalk has conducted approximately 15 cleanups in various areas throughout the West Island. Each cleanup takes approximately four to six hours and can yield massive amounts of trash. To plan a cleanup, they usually scout a few areas that potentially have lots of trash, choose one, then tell city councillors  they plan on conducting a cleanup. They’re well supported by the community in this respect: most of the cleanups attract local politicians, city district members, large groups of volunteers.

One of the places that they’ve worked on is Angell Woods in Beaconsfield. Their most successful cleanup at this location resulted in 1,275 pounds of trash collected – in a space no larger than a couple of hundred square feet. After the trash is picked up and sorted and divided, it’s usually brought to the edge of the location and sectioned off until city workers pick it up and properly dispose of the various types of trash. The boroughs also often offer gloves and garbage bags to facilitate cleanups which, as Hygate explains, is already a solid blueprint for successful trash removal.

“At all of our cleanups, we’re able to find some very interesting things,” said Hygate. With the interesting trash they find – tractor parts, decomposing cars and 50-year-old 7-Up cans with branding that no one recognizes anymore – they plan to create art pieces such as sculptures. The aim is giving passerbys an incentive to keep the space clean and to not litter in the first place.

“There’s a lot of layers that add up to why TrashTalk is a fun thing to do and a purposeful thing to do as well,” explained Hygate. “People need the opportunity to come out and engage with the environment in a whole, very productive manner where the impact is direct and you see it right in front of you. When you’re done a trash cleanup, what will happen is you’re going to turn around and the place you’ve just been slaving at for three or four hours, and you took out a thousand pounds with another 20 people, you look back and that place really does look cleaner and it really does have a great difference to it.”

For more information about TrashTalk, how you can participate or to donate, visit

Feature photo by Laurence B.D.

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