Student Life

Go green in urban areas year-round

Find the resources to start a small garden and optimize your growing space

Gardening is tough manual work, especially when you are living within the cityscape of Montreal. Surrounded by concrete and limited green-space, attempting to plant vegetables can be restraining. Last Wednesday, the Concordia Greenhouse offered a compromise for those who live the city life but still crave natural produce.

On Jan. 30, the “Grow Your Own Food Year-Round” event, led by Urban Homestead Montreal, gave a presentation about public resources and areas to harvest edible greens. Sheena Swirlz, coordinator for the organization, taught various tips and tricks to approach interior and exterior food cultivation.

On the 13th floor of the Hall building, Concordia students and Montreal residents were invited to discuss various methods to start their own small-space indoor and outdoor, year-round gardens. Surrounded by hanging foliage within the glass structure, Swirlz spoke about seasonal harvesting and explained the beneficial outcomes of gardening, when done effectively.

Swirlz delved into sprouting and microgreens, hydroponics, window farming, and more. While adapting to the seasons, gardening in the city can seem daunting: “I think people think that it’s simple […] but, in the beginning, there’s a lot of set-ups, a lot of research to optimize your growing systems,” Swirlz explained.

Swirlz highlighted that a garden can be personalized. “In my garden, I almost exclusively grow things that you can’t generally find. So, I’ll grow things like cucamelons, which are these little things that look like miniature watermelons, but they taste like cucumbers. They look like little mouth-watermelons. So adorable!”

Urban Homestead Montreal hosted their event in the Concordia Greenhouse on the 13th floor of the Hall building. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

When planting in the spring, whether indoors or outdoors, Swirlz recommends Swiss chard and kale or hearty herbs like parsley, oregano, and mint, all of which regrow every year. For Swirlz, Swiss chard and kale are the go-to vegetables “because they are super easy to grow, [and] they’re not prone to pests as much as other things, they’re extremely nutrient rich.”

Swirlz mentioned that during the spring season, people can be introduced to wild harvesting by getting involved with various Montreal organizations and plant shops that will take you on foraging walks. Neumark Design, Naughty Nettles Medicinals and Myco Boutique all offer plant-identifying workshops and activities. During these walks, you can forage for edibles like fiddleheads, morel mushrooms, dandelions and stinging nettles.

According to Swirlz, gardening can bring communities together, all while offering a self-reliant lifestyle. “It’s like knitting and baking. It’s to make people feel better. It does feel good to do things with our hands,” she said. “Gardening really connects us with plants, makes us feel like we’re part of nature again, and it makes people feel better.”

During the winter, growing mushrooms or germinating your own sprouts indoors are some of the most exciting and cost-effective ways to cultivate during the cold months.

Martha Martinez, a Concordia student and event attendee, thought the topic of mushrooms was the most interesting of Swirlz’s presentation. “It’s something that we eat a lot where I live with my family. We don’t buy shiitake every week. That is an expensive kind of mushroom.”

Swirlz enjoys planting indoors during her free time and prefers this cheap alternative compared to always shopping at grocery stores. “It is a way of saying, ‘No more capitalizing on food.’ Being able to feed your family and being able to have food on your table should not be a business,” she said.

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins


Concordia’s new vegetable playground

Labour of love sees organic and healthy come to a university near you

Oct. 29 was the opening of Concordia’s Farmers’ Market, a unique outlet for students to purchase and learn about what they eat. Founders Kasha Paprocki and Alejandra Melian-Morse say the event went extremely well for something that wasn’t even on the drawing board before the semester began.

The two say that the idea, supervised by Dr. Satoshi Ikeda, an anthropology professor with a devoted streak to food initiatives like the Hive Café, the Greenhouse, and the Food Coalition, came about from a deep respect and love for quality produce.

“I decided I wanted to do it through the Social Economies Food Internship that’s offered through the Anthropology and Sociology program, and I came up with the idea and came to Satoshi. Kasha was taking the food classes this year and we were talking about it and she got really excited about it too, so we approached him for a partner project.”

The Farmers’ Market, looking to become Concordia’s own Jean Talon Market, was put together on a relatively modest timeline beginning at the start of the semester with the opening deadline slated for Oct. 29. Paprocki and Melian-Morse began working on it right away; they joke their volunteering hours were complete after about ‘two weeks.’

They obtained consultation and advice from organizers and the food markets of UQAM and McGill for the how-tos and arranged for space with Concordia. The hardest step was directly contacting and building a relationship with the farmers who would be the linchpins of their plan. Simultaneously they launched a marketing campaign. This amount of work was steep for two full-time students, but the duo were helped by volunteers, some of whom needed to satisfy a volunteering course component. Paprocki and Melian-Morse say their varied skills and help was invaluable.

“It was pretty stressful, especially since before we had the opening on [Oct. 29], we decided to have a sample market day three weeks beforehand,” said Melian-Morse of their pre-opening.

“I was in contact with the farmers and Alejandra was responsible for the administration [and] applying for funding,” said Paprocki. “It all turned out well in the end and the farmers were really happy.”

For funding, the Farmers’ Market obtained the necessary capital through student funding opportunities like the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) and from the Concordia Council for Student Life. This community funding means the money is there, but the effort remains a labour of love.

“We don’t feel comfortable taking student’s money and paying ourselves,” said Melian-Morse, who did concede that the future may see paid positions be created if demand grows.

Melian-Morse said the seasonal beat to which the market marches on makes winter logistics problematic, but one which is highly beneficial to both producers and buyers.

“Since we’re a full-year market, and we’re indoor, it’s very attractive [to the farmers],” said Melian-Morse, listing the seasonal items—at the moment, mostly root vegetables—available.

“There’s also an amazing baker that has this massive table out with baguettes and croissants,” waxes Paprocki. “And there’s pie.”

The two are happy with the results, but see no need to limit the ambition.

“We’re going to start having workshops every week; different types of cooking, classes, or just info sessions on local organic food or food movements. We’d love to make the Farmer’s Market as much as of a learning experience as possible.” Already they’re hoping for better and bigger placement for next year, perhaps in the Library building or the EV building.

With winter coming, the girls are tackling the problem of securing a variety of produce from greenhouse operators. Maintaining locality and organic produce will be restricting, but they’re confident they can do it by learning from past attempts like one that saw a summer-only market fail from lack of patronage.

“I think the prices are very affordable,” she continues, saying they’re roughly equivalent to what organic food would be in supermarkets.

“Unless you’re eating Kraft Dinner,” chimes Melian-Morse.

The Concordia Farmers’ Market is located on the second floor of the Hall Building, next to the Hive.

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