Community Gardens Series 3.0: The Mustard Seed Rooftop Garden
Our third community garden story comes from the from the top of world in downtown Calgary: the Mustard Seed’s Rooftop Garden.
The Mustard Seed is an organization that provides basic services, employment assistance and housing to Calgary’s men and women faced with hardship and homelessness. In Calgary, the Mustard Seed provides: 371 emergency shelter spaces, over 1,000 nutritious meals each day, clothing and work boot programs, health and wellness services, chaplaincy and spiritual care as well as a compassionate community that offers personalized support.
The Mustard Seed works provide referrals, coaching and communication support to help their clients find meaningful and sustainable employment. In terms of housing, there are emergency spaces, but the Mustard Seed goes beyond this to help an individual move out of the shelter system and into a home of their own. Through transitional housing, low-income or rental housing options and assistance for household essentials, the support needed to maintain housing is available.
Now in their second season, the Mustard Seed started a rooftop community garden in the heart of downtown Calgary. I chatted with Deb, the Manager for Community Living at the Mustard Seed about this project and the effect it has had on the community at large and the residents of the Mustard Seed.
This garden is a special place and, for the residents and guests, has become much more than just a garden – at its core, “the Mustard Seed garden is not just a place where plants grow, it has become a place where hearts heal, souls bloom once again and those suffering from homelessness find a place to silently become who they were meant to be”.
Tell me about the community garden that you are a part of.
The Mustard Seed began the rooftop garden last year; the purpose is to provide a haven, a moment of quiet in the middle of downtown Calgary. It is an opportunity for the homeless and those who are newly housed to be part of the miracle of nurturing something. Something magical happens in the heart of anyone who is part of new life.
Why do you garden in a community garden?
We chose this opportunity of rooftop because it does not just provide an environment of serenity and beauty to those who are at the Mustard Seed, but the buildings surrounding us also benefit from looking out over it. One of our neighbouring businesses saw us building the garden and donated $1000 toward it simply because their staff look at it daily. That is building community.
What has been your greatest success in the garden so far this summer?
This summer we have added a number of edible flowers to the crops of peas, tomatoes and herbs. Our residents and guests are learning that plants to not have to look like a vegetable to be edible. They are involved in a cooking class that teaches them how to use the plants in meal preparation and we are now going to be bringing the pots in during the winter to continue with desk top gardens for any staff interested to support our residents in their cooking class all winter.
What has been your biggest challenge?
The rooftop is extremely dry and hot; and this has been an incredibly hot summer. As a result we have had to water far more frequently; we have tubes going down into the bottom of every raised garden bed, allowing watering from the bottom rather than the top. This means that the water does not just evaporate but actually lays deep in the soil.
What are you most looking forward to in the garden this summer?
We are having a celebratory BBQ for our summer students when they return to school in August. It will take place on the rooftop and we will truly see community come together for this, staff, students, volunteers and our residents and guests.
How many individual plots do you have?
We have 6 large raised boxes and over 20 double pails. We have a number of hanging baskets, an arbour and pots of flowers that will be brought in come fall.
Are there any unusual features that the Mustard Seed Community Garden has that your community is especially proud of?
We have a giant mural painted on the wall of our building that was painted by a street graftti artist. It is at the base of the Mustard Seed cross and adds colour to the garden even in the winter. The large picnic tables are used by staff and residents all year.
What are some of the practices that your your gardeners to abide by (i.e. composting, water-use, organic, etc.)
We partner with our apartment residents to compost, our residents assist with watering, there is no smoking to ensure that the environment is actually comfortable for everyone, and our watering barrels are filled from our eaves and we use rainwater for almost all watering. Our soil is organic from a worm farm, as are the plants.
How have the gardens been received by your community-at-large?
Our entire garden was funded by community partners and has now spread to front and back gardens for our two apartment buildings in the downtown area of Calgary. We even had Stampede pizza parties on the rooftop during the Calgary Stampede where the residents of the Mustard Seed watched the fireworks in the garden every night. The pizzas were donated by a wonderful suporter who provides petty cash for our residents weekly.
And last but not least, how do you keep the rabbits out of the lettuce? (We assume the building height helps, but do you have any other pest problems?)
Saved by the rooftop! We do have to watch for downtown pigeons but because there is almost always someone up there, this assists.