For over 10 years, Start Me Up Niagara has enjoyed the use of a two-acre community farm space at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. This space is generously donated to us by the VRIC to grow food for our meal programs and offer it to our community at a low cost, helping us promote wellness and food security in our neighbourhood.
In this space, we grow a wide variety of different vegetables, herbs and beans. We welcome and transport our SMUN participants out to the farm from downtown St. Catharines, so they can help out if they are interested in learning about gardening and so they have a place to go to get away from the drama of downtown life.
In this space, we also have a beautiful therapeutic garden labyrinth made up of different flowers. Participants and volunteers can meander and enjoy some peace and quiet.
In 2019, we started exploring other opportunities for using the space as a resource for our participants and started engaging in social enterprise activities. We started growing a variety of heirloom beans which we can sell as seeds and for cooking. We also started working with participants to grow specific herbs, flowers and veggies that we then harvest and use in a kitchen program. We transform these items into unique products to sell at the farmer’s market. These initiatives help support the farm and social enterprise programs and provide financial support to our participants in the program.
These initiatives help the marginalized people we work with an opportunity to learn valuable growing and kitchen skills, cultivate social connections, and transform their daily lives through gardening and food. Participants in our farm and social enterprises benefit from increased knowledge, employability, self-esteem and self-sufficiency from knowing how to grow food and create health-promoting products that they can make and use themselves at home.
To find out more about the farm and our associated programs or get involved, you can contact our Community Garden Program Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org