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 so we can grow food for our meal programs and to offer to our community at a low cost, helping us to 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 not only help out if they are interested in learning about gardening, but also 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, where 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, where we transform these items into unique products to sell at the farmer’s market. These initiatives not only help support the farm and social enterprise programs but also provide financial supports to our participants in the program.
These initiatives help provide the marginalized people that 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.
All our products are locally made by participants in our Garden Makers Program. In this nonprofit social enterprise project, participants learn how to plant, grow, harvest, preserve + use fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables through their engagement in local community gardens and kitchens. Proceeds support the participants and participating nonprofit agencies working on local poverty relief and food security.