A combination of soil + willing neighbours + green magic = local food for local people.
In the past
For many years a donation food hamper was used to serve the neediest of our community from Islington United. This involved keeping a store of non-perishable items on-hand for emergency situations when someone “just plain ran out” of groceries to feed themselves properly.
Fourteen years ago, this changed significantly when IUC entered a partnership with the Daily Bread Food Bank to run a year-round food program for 450 needy neighbours, just across Dundas. This area, called Mabelle, is representative of what many areas of Toronto are currently like. It is increasingly dense and gentrified, but still filled with towering hi-rises that house a mix of immigrants, single parents, elderly, low income earners and physically or mentally-challenged individuals.
Recently, though, Mabelle has been labelled one of Toronto’s inner-suburban “food deserts”. Many of the residents of Mabelle have a 4 km walk to visit an affordable grocery store. One winter evening we even encountered an elderly lady dragging her bundle buggy, full of groceries, down the snowy right lane of Bloor Street! With big grocers now gone, IUC launched this initiative to formally acknowledge, reach-out and help the less-fortunate neighbours.
The Garden is born
In 2013, the Green Team of IUC, cultivated an “organic” vegetable patch on church property to solve the most persistent challenge facing this on-going food program – a decent selection of fresh produce. Although bi-weekly food bank deliveries are continuous and fairly reliable, the quality, volume and consistency of green goods was just not there. Produce varied, depending on the level of demand, volume of donations, and time-of-year. To tackle this challenge, a goal to grow local, sustainable vegetables was created. The mission converted part of the unused south-facing lawn, with ecologically-friendly gardening practices – producing a level of quality that anyone would be proud to put on their own plate.
From 6 to 44
The Giving Garden, as it is now known, has grown from a six square-meter carrot patch, to a 44 square-meter mixed garden that produces hundreds of kilos of vegetables, May thru October. The garden is nurtured and cared for by dozens of volunteers, including church members, neighbourhood residents, Cub Scouts, ESL students, day-campers and anyone that doesn’t mind getting their hands a bit dirty. With the 27 raised garden boxes, three potato boxes and three trellises, along with a handful of backyard satellite gardens, the operation has expanded to deliver over 1,300 food packages to three food banks and an Out-of-the-Cold operation.
Garden to Table
Growing according to healthy principles, our gardeners control as many of the elements as they can, using untreated soils, organic seeds and seedlings, as well as, rainwater from the roof (wherever possible). Four on-site composters, a large water tank, a 1,200 indoor seed nursery and an OBA-registered bee yard on the roof, support this expanding ecosystem. To maximize food value, taste and appearance, all vegetables are picked in the morning and delivered before noon, maximizing nutritional value.
A Link to the Past
Not that long ago, prior to high-rises and a sea of housing, farms and market gardens dominated Etobicoke. Before that, pioneering settlers plowed land in the vicinity of Montgomery’s Inn to serve the military travelers and workers from an emerging city called Toronto. And just as our indigenous friends gathered in summer camps to forage, fish and form mounds of “three sisters” (corn, beans & squash) on the banks of Mimico Creek, we are also now taking our turn to till the ground along Dundas Street.