Plant, Grow, Eat

Sprouting Knowledge and Food

With rising costs due to inflation, food has become less affordable, or even completely unaffordable, for many Edmontonians.

Promoting food security has never been more important, and Sustainable Food Edmonton (SFE) is integral to this work locally.

“We try to take the approach that through education and community, there are alternative and complementary ways to address food security in our city,” says Kareema Batal, communications and marketing strategist for SFE.

To help combat food insecurity, SFE focuses on promoting and supporting urban agriculture in Edmonton and surrounding areas through three programs. The Little Green Thumbs/Little Green Sprouts programs provide indoor gardens for elementary school teachers to guide students with growing, and eating, their own herbs and vegetables. Urban Ag High supports junior and high school teachers and students with resources and connections needed to pursue projects that promote urban agriculture. The third program involves working with the City of Edmonton to fund community gardens so that people can take a hands-on approach to growing sustainable food like fruits, vegetables and herbs that can be accessed by all Edmontonians.

In Spring 2023, SFE encountered a new and exciting opportunity to expand its community garden program. The McCauley orchard and community garden in Edmonton’s inner city had been untended since 2021 when its previous owner, Operation Fruit Rescue, was unable to continue its programming. A space that was once a hub of activity — especially during apple-pressing events in the fall — had been vacant for two years. Knowing the space still had potential with the right resources, Operation Fruit Rescue and the City of Edmonton approached SFE about taking over and reviving the space. “The relationship happened through ongoing conversations and a sense of community,” Batal says. “It’s a really good fit to promote urban agriculture in the city.”

To ensure the McCauley orchard and community gardens received the care and attention it needs, SFE applied for an Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) Community Grant and received $35,500.

“The McCauley Orchard is an urban agriculture project that also creates a sense of belonging in the community,” Joanne Currie, ECF’s Director of Grants and Community Engagement says. “This important, multi-faceted project will have a long-term positive impact on the community, and we are incredibly happy to have been able to support it.”

With the funding, SFE will rejuvenate the space and revive the orchard and garden as a well-used, well-loved public space centred on food sustainability, food security and community. “Taking over this space is a growth opportunity,” Batal says. “The more we’re able to grow and expand, the more we can promote our mission and what we want to see in terms of people engaging in urban agriculture in the city.”

In its first season, SFE made significant progress including planting new trees, adding and rebuilding community garden beds, and initiating an orchard steward program.

“Community volunteers can learn about growing trees in the orchard, and then take care of their own little plot,” Batal says. “For those who aren’t ready to take care of a plot or even grow their own garden at home, they can dabble in caring for the plants in the community garden.” Thanks to ECF’s support, SFE was able to purchase a new shed, hire a local artist to refinish a permanent outdoor table, host programming and events, and hire an orchard coordinator to organize events and survey the community about what they’d like to see happen in the orchard and garden. In the fall, the famous apple-pressing event returned. “[In 2024] it will be really nice for people to participate in the full cycle: tending to the trees that grow the apples in the spring, and picking and pressing — and eating — apples in the fall.”

In 2024, SFE plans to expand and introduce new offerings based on community feedback. “We want to do more events for the community at the orchard, and just continue to offer more ways to engage people in growing food,” Batal says. “Our theory of change is that if people are engaged, they’re aware. If we teach them some food skills, they will more likely develop these skills and nurture them and practice them in their own life, whether it’s their own community garden, or in their own garden beds at home where they will be growing food for themselves, which is an important element of food security.”

When it comes to food security, SFE is part of an ecosystem alongside food banks and food donation programs. “Anybody who is interested in getting more involved in food security and sustainable food in Edmonton, especially if they have a project or an idea, or they want to volunteer with us, should reach out because we’d love to build those connections.”

This story comes from the Winter 2023 edition of Legacy in Action. Read the full magazine.