In an effort to build a community of environmentally conscious citizens we’ve created Community Leeks as a platform for people to share thoughts, stories, recipes and resources.
Today’s Community Leeks entry is from a local environmental initiative: The NDG Seed Savers and Exchange. Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization who’s mission is to save and share seeds in an effort to maintain our natural biodiversity. Mass farming practices, the loss of ecosystems and consequently, the loss of many food and medicinal plant/seed species have inspired two passionate women – Jacqueline and Tanya – to become ambassadors for seed saving and exchanges here in Montreal. Their vision and action are inspiring, and provide us with the opportunity to become part of a larger movement to help preserve and protect our natural world. Jacqueline and Tanya, thank you for sharing your story.
The NDG Seed Savers and Exchange
How did you get involved with Seed Saving and community building?
I have always been strongly connected to the natural world. It’s something I have been doing for years. I honestly do not remember what started this journey other than to say it seems something of a calling that has been in me since birth. A calling that has only become more insistent as time passes, as I learn more. I am always learning.
What with the current state of things – mass scale farming requiring large volumes of dangerous chemicals to sustain; loss of so many food and medicine plant/seed varieties, leaving only those consistent with efficiency of harvest and length of shelf life (read: less cost/more profit > understand: nothing to do with nutrition, food value, taste, etc…); chemicals rampant in our foodstuffs and bodies (even ‘organic natural flavour’ is an unnatural hoax); our general loss of knowledge regarding the medicines and foodstuffs already and or still in our environment(s); spreading of GMO seed and companies like Monsanto (Bayer) buying up the vast majority of seed companies globally; GMOs, glysophate and other chemicals used in mass scale farming creating acres upon acres of ‘superweeds’ that cannot be cleared/purged causing the loss of productive/usable land; corporate greenwashing; our government being controlled and guided by corporate interests like Big Oil, Big Ag (really Big Chem in disguise), Big Pharma, etc.; rising global temps and CO2 levels that exceed anything the planet has ever seen in a cycle of cooling and warming that has ever been; expanding desertification; loss of ecosystems too fast for species of plant and animal to adapt; etc… – every passing day I find I am only that much more inspired to be part of a sustainable solution and a better world for all Life.
I am an artist and have long been an activist focused on (real) Life. Being so drawn to the natural world led me quite organically to being active in building and bridging community so we can find our way to act together and create a better place for all.
That and fantasies of turning the Island of Montreal into a Food Forest keep me going on this journey.
When my daughter was 10 months old, we moved into a big place with my mom in east NDG. Sharing expenses with her enables me to stay at home with my daughter, and gives me a chance to devote some time to community work.
One day, when my husband and I were digging up the grass in the front in order to seed clover, a neighbour approached me to ask if I’d be interested in helping to start a Green Alley in the back. I said yes, not realizing how much work would be involved. During the year that followed, I learned about networking with neighbours (never have I known so many by first name!), planning a garden the size of a city block, and dealing with the city bureaucracy. I’m thrilled with the result of all those unpaid hours. Now our alley is a much cleaner, greener, more family-friendly little community. There’s less litter and people hang out there more. We commissioned an artist to paint a mural with a part of the budget, and he kindly threw in a free hopscotch on the pavement and a butterfly on someone’s garage. It’s awesome!
The moment when I understood I was involved in something potentially beautiful was during the first stage of the project, when I asked my neighbour Jane Barr to sign the petition required to begin a Green Alley in Montreal. She kindly invited me into her home and talked to me about Transition NDG and the Incredible Edibles project she was heavily involved in. I had seen these gardens on Sherbrooke and Somerled, and loved the idea of growing food to share. 30% of NDG’s kids are growing up below the poverty line. Imagine how awesome these amazing people are, doing all that work planting and tending these gardens that anyone can help themselves to! Thanks to Jane’s inspiration, my plant order for the alley focused on edible/medicinal, indigenous plants.
I’d always grown food in some capacity, mostly in containers on balconies, and over the years I’ve come to rely more and more on home-grown and home-cooked food as a means to survive healthfully on a low income. I remember as a kid my mom telling me how my grandmother (who raised 7 kids in wartime) scolded her for growing grass instead of food during a visit. That summer, despite her advanced age, she helped my mom dig up the earth around the house and planted food. We always had fresh lettuce, veggies, and berries. I think the times ahead are going to be harder: food prices are rising, incomes are stagnant, and we, as individuals, have to come up with creative ways to feed our families and reach out to our neighbours. The Green Alley and the NDGSSAE are my contribution to this effort.
How did the two of you meet and what inspired the creation of NDGSSAE?
I moved to NDG about 2 decades ago and have, over the years, become ever more involved with my local community. I volunteer and participate with organizations like Incredible Edibles/Transitions, NDG Art Hive and many other local efforts to join/build community primarily at grassroots level with a strong focus on including and being accessible to all citizens regardless of any kind of ‘status’, financial or otherwise.
Last spring I was initiating my own project focused on what I like to call permission-free gardening, but others refer to as guerrilla gardening, The Secret Garden Project. This is an initiative intent on spreading mainly indigenous, perennial food & medicine plants. When I saw that Transitions NDG was hosting a vertical garden workshop it was obvious to me that I would pass by and say hi. My then 2 year old son and I packed up some of our beloved seeds and walked over. The workshop was being held in Tanya’s backyard and it was our first meeting. From that day on Tanya and I found so many commonalities regarding our efforts to green our community bringing us together in ways both planned and unplanned. I believe this was the world conspiring to bring us to where we find ourselves today. Every time we met our conversations always seemed to find their way to us discussing mutual fantasies of a community seed library, an exchange where all folk could participate and learn regardless of income and/or skill level. Finally we realized it was not just a fantasy for us to mutually indulge in, but rather something we both felt the need to actually do. So we put out heads together in earnest and began planning in the fall of 2016. Our main goals were: to be grassroots; to be accessible to all; to focus on organic indigenous food and medicine plants; to make it easy and fun for folk to get involved. The result was the birth of NDGSSAE.
We had our launch on February 12th and are planning our next event for late March/early April (exact date to be announced in early March 2017). All our events are welcoming to all and completely free, from admission to snacks to door prizes – there are no fees. We do keep a donation jar discreetly on a table for those desiring and able to help support our efforts, but the majority of our fundraising is done outside of our seed exchange events themselves. Our annual fundraising goals are a modest $5000 per year. For those wishing to help support our efforts we accept financial donations (no tax receipts available), but also greatly encourage donations of those supplies which we need. We publish and update a Wish List for those interested on our Facebook pages and on posters at our events. We intend a dedicated website, as well as a phone line for those wanting to contact the library soon….
In the spring of 2016, after helping to organize an alley clean-up with about 25 neighbours, and before our plant order from the city arrived, I agreed to co-host a vertical garden atelier with Transition NDG in my backyard. Along came Jacqueline with her son and a huge amount of seeds to donate. I was immediately moved and awed by her generosity and enthusiasm. By the end of the summer we were fast friends and beginning to plan the NDGSSAE. I had fought hard in the Green Alley committee to buy seeds with some of the budget, and it made sense to partner with Jacqueline in order to trade for more and increase the diversity of the plants in the alley.
In the meantime I’ve started to dream big and hope that the NDGSSAE can help with greening the whole neighbourhood – and beyond!
Where are your hopes for NDGSSAE and where do you see the organization and yourselves in 5 to 10 years?
– To continue growing our respective Mother Gardens to provide seeds, clippings, clones and more for spreading throughout our community.
– To have an active seed Library with phone access and a physical location where it can be accessible to people year round for both outdoor and indoor growing.
– To continue on with our goal of at least seven completely free and fun events per year, held throughout the growing season – from collecting scions and starting indoor spring seedlings through to end of harvest.
– To have a fully functional website where we post information, photos, videos, livestreams and more from ourselves and others with knowledge to share relating to plant identification, seed saving, growing, sustainability and more.
– To inspire and support people in our own community to join in greening our collective space
– To inspire and support people in other communities to get involved and initiate their own projects aimed at building community to the benefit of all members.
– To spread Positivity, Love and Joy
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About the Authors:
Jacqueline and Tanya are two mothers, friends and activists for the natural world. They seek to build a community by sharing their knowledge and helping to support sustainable models of food through local harvesting. Their vision and optimism have fuelled their drive to continue building successful gardens in and around their neighbourhood.