Community Gardens Aim to Alleviate Hunger

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Milo and Desinee Ralph have spent the summer tending the Île-des-Chênes community gardens Evan Braun

The RM of Ritchot has partnered with Southern Health-Santé Sud, Gabrielle-Roy, and some passionate volunteers to grow locally sourced vegetables in Île-des-Chênes’s community gardens. The new garden boxes, located to the northeast of Gab-Roy along the Hamilton Road bus loop, are bursting with fresh produce.

“The southern regional health authority provided the funding for the garden boxes, as well as all the infrastructure,” says Amber Mamchuk, Ritchot’s Recreation Director. “There’s a shed, and inside the shed is a water tank, so there’s water on site for the gardeners to use.”

Those gardeners include Desinee Ralph and her nine-year-old son Milo. The pair has spent a lot of time this summer tending the gardens together. Of the ten garden boxes, seven of them are used to grow food to donate to local food banks. The other three are currently rented out to residents of Île-des-Chênes.

Although the intention is eventually to donate all the food to the local food bank, until those arrangements can be settled the produce is being sent to Forward House in Winnipeg’s Elmwood neighbourhood and Addictions Foundation Manitoba in St. Norbert.

“We started in June,” Ralph says. “I had seen the garden boxes, so I called Amber [at the RM office], and said, ‘Hey, I’m wondering about these garden boxes. What’s going on? I heard they might be for the food bank.’ I wanted to know if there was any way I could help with that.”

Mamchuk then put Ralph in touch with Ada and Keith McNeil, the couple who spearheaded the idea.

“I contacted them, and then I’ve been helping ever since,” Ralph says. “Milo’s been a pretty good help, and he’s been doing this for a while. I think it’s important for children to learn about providing for your community. To take care of it, and take care of the people in it.”

Mamchuk adds that Gab-Roy has generously donated the land for the gardens. “[This] will allow the school to use the garden for the students, who can help plant and decide what’s going in the gardens. We might also paint the outsides of the boxes and allow the students to do some decoration. They helped us fill the boxes with soil, so the students came out and got pretty dirty, and filled the boxes with us.”

The boxes are currently bursting with Swiss chard, four different kinds of tomatoes, three kinds of peppers, yellow beans, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, beets, and corn—all of which will be donated to people in need. The seeds were donated by Glenlea Nursery, who have also contributed plants for the upcoming St. Adolphe community gardens. Mamchuk says gardens are planned for Ste. Agathe next year.

Ralph’s passion for gardening began when she was a child, spending the summers at her grandparents’ farm in the Lockport area.

“My grandfather is actually 86 years old, and he still supplies the local grocery store with vegetables,” says Ralph. “So I grew up spending the summer there, and I was put to work. All the time. I’ve just always liked it. I’m also a bit of a health freak, so for me I like my fresh produce and I go to certain specific grocery stores where I know I can get the good local stuff.”

Ralph is passionate about educating people on the many benefits of growing and consuming food from your own garden.

“There’s so many different reasons for having a garden,” she says. “It’s staying local, it’s the nutrition, it’s the growing itself, it’s getting oxygen from the plants, there are so many benefits.”

She’s quick to add that there’s also a financial incentive. “You know what, for me to go buy a head of cauliflower, it costs five bucks and I can grow it in my own garden. Same with spinach. It’s six bucks! Well, I put in a couple of spinach seeds and all of a sudden I have a huge plant. The cauliflower maybe doesn’t turn out quite as good here as it does in California, we just don’t have the right environment even in the summertime, but the whole thing is very cheap. Like, you go and spend 30 bucks on a bunch of seeds, and now you have all your vegetables for a whole summer.”

Mamchuk says that the boxes are available to rent for a seasonal fee of $35, although she adds that the municipality would consider offering subsidies to people who want to grow their own food but struggle to make ends meet.

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