Fresh produce feeds the hungry; Encourages healthier eating and ‘it’s joyful and fun and actually enriches your life’
Posted 15 June 2011, by Monique Beaudin,Montreal Gazette, montrealgazette.com
MONTREAL – In front of the N.D.G. Food Depot’s west-end headquarters, herbs, tomatoes, potatoes and turnips are growing in newly built wooden planters.
Inside the grey industrial building on Oxford Ave., mushrooms are growing in plastic buckets and bean sprouts fill glass jars. Volunteer cooks will use the fresh produce to prepare meals for some of the thousands of people who go to the food depot for help every year.
This small-scale agriculture project is part of a bigger plan by the food bank to branch out into practising permaculture, a system of ecological design that includes organic gardening, reducing waste and building strong communities.
Inspired by the systems and relationships found in nature, permaculture techniques are most often applied to agriculture and growing food, although it can also be used to deal with environmental problems such as climate change or oil spills.
Since it was founded 25 years ago as a temporary solution to food insecurity in the neighbourhood, the food depot has moved from simply providing emergency food to trying to make longterm changes in the community, said director Fiona Keats.
“We are really moving toward a vision of an integrated, holistic, community food centre,” she said.
Permaculture seems like a natural extension of that progression, she added. Created by two Australians – a biologist and an environmentalist – in the 1970s, permaculture is based on three principles: Care for the Earth, care for people and care for the future.
“Some of the principles really resonate with us – the whole idea of caring for the Earth so it will continue to produce for us and caring for people, which is what we do every day when people are in crisis and come to the depot,” she said.
Demand continues to grow for the food depot’s services, up 28 per cent between 2006 and 2010, Keats said. Last year, it distributed food more than 34,000 times, to clients from Côte St. Luc, Hampstead, Montreal West, N.D.G., Westmount and parts of Lachine and Côte des Neiges.
While it buys about $70,000 worth of food every year, the food depot relies on food from the city-wide Moisson Montréal food bank, and about $300,000 worth of donations from the community every year to meet the demand, Keats said.
To celebrate the depot’s 25th birthday this year and to help raise funds for its programs, one of the world’s leading permaculturalists – a San Franciscobased author and permaculture designer who goes by the name Starhawk – is coming to Montreal this month to screen a new film about the impact permaculture projects have had around the world.
The film, called Permaculture: The Growing Edge, was directed by Starhawk and Montreal filmmaker Donna Read. It looks at a cleanup project in post-Katrina New Orleans, where plants were used to remove heavy metals from the soil, and a community garden in San Francisco that gives at-risk youth work experience while providing fresh produce in a neighbourhood with no grocery stores.
“In permaculture, one of the principles is something we call stacking functions, which means getting more than one function out of every element,” Starhawk said. “The garden serves many functions besides growing food and being beautiful.”
It produces healthy, organic food, encourages people to eat more healthy food, and offers job training and an income in a neighbourhood with few jobs, she said.
Beyond agriculture, permaculture is also a way of dealing with environmental and social problems, Starhawk said.
The film documents an oil-spill cleanup that used human hair to absorb the oil, which then became a planting medium to grow oyster mushrooms that convert the oil to sugar for their growth – a way to dispose of toxic waste without creating any waste products.
Permaculture can be an answer to problems like climate change, Starhawk said. Farms can sequester excess carbon dioxide in the soil, reducing the amount in the atmosphere, which leads to climate change, while urban agriculture reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed to produce food on a large-scale and transport it to cities, she said.
“Putting solutions in place doesn’t have to be grim and awful, it’s joyful and fun and it actually enriches your life,” she said. “It’s joyful, wonderful work to plant things and tend plants and it builds community at the same time when you’re gardening together.”
Please visit the original site for the photographs accompanying the article.
Filmmakers Donna Read and Starhawk will be at the screening of the film Permaculture: The Growing Edge on June 22 at the Crowley Arts Centre, 5325 Crowley Ave. It is a fundraiser to celebrate the NDG Food Depot’s 25th anniversary. Tickets are $20 and available only at the door.
Starhawk is doing a two-week workshop on permaculture called Earth Activist Training in Audet, Que., from June 25 to July 9. For more information, go to www.earthactivisttraining.org