Stephen Kirk (from right), SNA greenhouse coordinator; Mandalyn Unger, environment and open spaces coordinator; and Michael Zeray, greenhouse assistant, hold up trays of new sprouts in the SNA community greenhouse.Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published 11:08 Apr 14, 2022

By Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Construction on the new community greenhouse finished in late January, and a week after seeds mixed with dirt on March 1 the first generation showed their little green faces.

Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA) greenhouse coordinator Stephen Kirk sent a photo of the first sprouts to his email list. It was the biggest response he’s ever gotten from an email.

“It’s obviously really rewarding for me, in my job, but it’s great to see the neighbourhood excited about it too.”

There’s good reason for excitement. With the sprouts comes a promise of tomatoes, chives, basil, strawberries, jalapenos, green onions, chard, parsley and six different hot pepper varieties. And that’s just among the dozen trays of seedlings so far.

“We’re just getting going,” says Kirk.

Some seedlings will spend their lives in the greenhouse, while others will join community gardeners and end up in raised beds and garden plots at nine community gardens in the Spence neighbourhood, or in one of the dozen raised beds around the greenhouse site.

Mandalyn Unger, environment and open spaces coordinator at SNA, says anyone can apply for space to grow in one of the community gardens. They are free, with priority going to people who live in Spence or who don’t have their own green space. Applications can be found on SNA’s website (see the community green spaces and gardening page) or drop by the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre on Langside Street to pick up a paper copy.

“We provide seeds as well as seedlings, and there are workshops so folks can learn about gardening to grow their own food,” says Unger. 

Unger is also excited about a community fridge set to open on the greenhouse site around the beginning of summer. Based on a Toronto project, the fridge will be housed in an insulated building and open 24/7 for people to leave or take fresh produce as needed.

“We’ll be stocking the fridge with vegetables from the garden, but we’ll also be encouraging people in the neighbourhood to stock it and to take from it as they can and as they need,” says Unger.

A new partnership is also growing alongside the greenhouse this spring which will provide opportunities for youth in SNA’s Youth Crew program—providing jobs and training to young people aged 11 to 16.

Fireweed Food Co-op, which runs the South Osborne Farmers’ Market, has begun to train the SNA youth on how to sell products at a farmers’ market.

“They’re willing to give us a table at the market and willing to provide business training,” says Kirk.

STREETS reported last October the SNA Youth Crew was developing a salsa recipe they planned to produce and market. They came up with the recipe, but when they crunched the numbers they realized it only made financial sense to make salsa when tomatoes are in season.

“So now we’re working towards having some salad dressings ready for whenever the famers’ market opens,” says Kirk.

Greenhouse bounty may also be sold to local restaurants or supply SNA food programs, he says. 

Anyone interested in helping with tasks like planting, watering, moving topsoil and building raised beds is welcome to don some garden gloves and volunteer on Thursdays from 4 – 6 p.m. at the greenhouse, 689 Maryland Street. Anyone looking for more information can email greenhouse@spenceneighbourhood.

This item reprinted with permission from The Leaf, Winnipeg, Manitoba