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Vancouver’s YWCA Feeds the Needy from its Own Rooftop Garden

Rooftop gardens are an efficient method of urban gardening. Rooftop gardens are an efficient method of urban gardening.

Urban gardening is taking off in major centers around the world, from New York to Tokyo. One of the most impressive of these projects towers above Western Canada’s most populous city, Vancouver.

Among the urban growing projects around Vancouver is a garden housed atop the YWCA in the city’s downtown east side (DTES), Canada’s poorest neighborhood.

The DTES is a gathering place for the homeless, the drug-addicted, the mentally ill, and outcasts from cities and towns around the province of British Columbia. A stroll through the neighborhood reveals people openly injecting heroin, and many visibly disturbed and severely ill people roaming sidewalks and stumbling across busy streets. It’s an image of a post-apocalyptic cityscape mere blocks from some of North America’s most expensive real estate. That fresh organic produce is being delivered into that scenario is like a burst of color on a palette of gray. A welcome development, indeed.

The YWCA’s rooftop garden is a fresh-food oasis and a herald of good in an increasingly urbanized world struggling for sustainability.

The rooftop garden started in 2006, and since then has produced more than five tons of freshly picked fruits and vegetables. Once a week, volunteers harvest the produce and take it down to Crabtree Corner, a community center in the DTES.

“What makes us special is that our core clients are low-income families,” explains the YWCA’s Chantelle Krish. “It’s a drop-in and it’s free. Anybody can come. We’ve had great feedback because it’s not often that people who are that low-income, living in serious poverty, have access to fresh organic produce.”

As for the garden itself, it’s a 650-square-meter operation with some unique qualities.

“We minimize our carbon footprint by farming naturally, using smart irrigation, maximizing planting space, and harvesting at the peak of readiness,” says Dale Bradley, the project manager.

In addition to typical Pacific Northwest produce like lettuce, kale, spinach, rhubarb, broccoli, hot peppers, tomatoes, and beans, the YWCA rooftop garden is also able to grow fruit uncommon to the region such as kiwis, peaches, and plums.

“The garden is uniquely situated in downtown Vancouver,” explains Bradley. “Because of the highrise buildings situated around us, we get reflection of the sun pretty much all day and at all different angles, which allows us to grow the kiwis and peaches. We get constant sun from about 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.”

The YWCA also runs the aforementioned Crabtree Corner, a family resource center in the DTES with housing, medical care, child care, and a community kitchen run by volunteers that serves two fresh meals a day. The lion’s share of the rooftop produce makes its way there.

Its connection to the YWCA garden means that, unlike other community centers around the city, Crabtree Corner doesn’t rely strictly on donations, but is able to serve food harvested the same day from its own resource.

The YWCA’s rooftop garden is a fresh-food oasis and a herald of good in an increasingly urbanized world struggling for sustainability.

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Last modified on Thursday, 17 October 2013 20:56

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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