Locally Grown Gourmet Lettuce?

by Sue Hall

Have you heard of growing food without soil?

Have you heard about kids/youth caring for a garden right in their own classroom, community centre or community house?

Well, that is exactly what we are doing! Food and
Finance: Growing Futures
, is a project that is engaging our children and the youth of our community. When you partner them up with local businesses, and you have a new geneimg_2181ration of healthy, entrepreneurial children that are excited to share their experiences with family and friends.

The Food and Finance: Growing Futures Project was born from an idea that the Director of PFC, Karen Secord had one day. She realized that when it comes to middle class habits around food, there was a gap between what people think they should be doing versus what people are actually doing. Every parent wants to feed their children healthy wholesome foods, but for many reasons it doesn’t always happen.

She realized that if we bring in the children and get them excited about eating healthy at an early age, then change becomes easier. Not only eating healthier, but teaching kids real life skills to make a healthier, happier, and more employment ready generation.

img_1878So how are we doing this? Bring in the Tower Gardens! Tower Gardens are state-of- the-art vertical aeroponic growing systems that can be set up indoors with a very small footprint. The Tower can grow vegetables, herbs, flowers and many different kinds of fruit in less time than it takes in soil.

From seeds, to seedlings, to planting, to harvesting, kids are taking ownership and pride in growing their own food. As a Holistic Nutritionist and Project Manager of this venture, I have experienced firsthand how many children, using the Tower Garden in various schools, community houses, or community centre, have embraced this project with open arms and now open mouths as they harvest their gardens!

The Tower Gardens are located in 3 schools, 2 community houses, a community centre and a food bank where teachers and youth workers have embraced this project. Children as young as 4 years old to the age of 14 are growing, cooking, marketing and selling. I have witnessed an increase in appetite and the desire not only to eat healthy, but to share with others.

Local business owners are also on board! Sheila Whyte, Owner of Thyme & Again, Wentzi Yeung, Owner of Culture Kombucha, and Jo Ann Laverty, Owner of Cake Lab have partnered with Fisher Summit, Connaught PS, and Devonshire PS respectively. Business owners and students together are working together to share knowledge and cultivate curiosity. Students understand that this partnership with the Food and Finance Project is a rare learning opportunity, and are proud to be part of the success of this program will no doubt have for them as individuals, and for the community. These opportunities are life changers!

Each location site has a different  story. Matt Herrington, grade 7 math teacher at Fisher Summit, has used the tower garden to teach place img_2123value to his students. He writes,

One student’s experience  struck me as unique. This student had struggled for an entire 50 minute period to understand place value (how ones, tens, hundreds, work). She was stumped and my heart ached for her. So, during our next period when I introduced the Garden Log’s and saw her face light up, mostly because she was eager to explore the garden, but also because she understood this meant a short reprieve from the dreaded study of place value; Or so she thought!

She took her journal to the garden and decided to record the initial height of each plant. At one point she called me over to inquire about how to record ‘five and a half’ centimetres on the page: “How do you write a 39 and a half sir?” Using ten linking cubes, put together as one whole, I asked her separate the whole into 2 equal groups. She quickly took the whole apart and had two groups of 2. I then asked her, “What did you do to that whole?” She responded, “I broke it in half.”

So we then looked back at her paper and the lonely 5 recorded there, and I asked, “so, what does a 39 and a half look like?” She looked at the linking cubes and at the 5 on her page and quickly wrote, 5.5cm. When she made this realization her smile reflected a sense of contentedness, of accomplishment, and a warmth slowly lit her eyes. She went back to the garden and kept recording plant heights. Math hurdle cleared with a little help from the dill growing in our garden.  Awesome!

Salad Bowl Day Lunch at Devonshire PS with teacher Stephen Skoutajan and his grade five students. Students filled their plates with gourmet lettuce just harvested from their tower.
A lesson in dicing and cutting other veggies brought in from outdoor gardens, added an extra punch of nutrition and taste.

Connaught PS, grade 4/5 class, teacher Michelle Richardson – prepping their harvest on a field trip to the Parkdale Food Centre, to be creatively displayed as a Mason Jar Salad with Chef Simon Bell to surprise family at the evening meal.

Dovercourt Community Centre with their after school youth program, harvested 2,700 grams of fresh gourmet lettuce!
img_2138 The youth went on to prepare 18 bags of lettuce, 150 grams per bag, sold for $4.00 per bag. The $72.00 earned will go back into their program for field trips and other educational tools.

This is just the beginning. Food and Finance: Growing
, is a program that will not only provide wholesome food to our youth, but it will spark desire to eat healthier in life and to understand the importance of food. The children and youth will learn and see the connection between healthy bodies and healthy minds, energy and happiness. They will appreciate healthy food and the connections it is bringing to them in their communities. Confidence around financial literacy will instil the power in our younger generation to follow their dreams and become the entrepreneurs of the future.


What I learned from a day at the Parkdale Food Centre

By Brett Serjeantson (member of Parkdale Food Centre board)

When I first came to the Parkdale Food Centre (PFC) in 2006, it was located on the corner of Somerset and Bayswater, where Hintonburg and Little Italy intersect.
I really had no inclination to interact with clients when I first volunteered. For me it was more about unloading the truck and stocking shelves. The anonymity and routine helped to take my mind off of life, while at the same time trying to make a difference.
img_9388-1 Back then, we had to carry food supplied from the Ottawa Food Bank by hand and navigate boxes and crates downstairs. At the time a good back was worth as much as any sunny disposition with clients. But times at the PFC have changed, and for the better.
The PFC’s new Rosemount location is much more central, the facilities are amazing, and unloading the Food Bank truck is now a lot less challenging thanks to the Rosemount elevator. No more navigating down treacherous stairs with heavy boxes.
The emphasis is now where it should be – on clients and volunteers.
That means a greater emphasis on relationships, and ensuring an enjoyable and respectful experience for everyone involved.
But those aren’t the only recent changes.
Over a month ago, PFC Chair Len Fardella asked board members to meet with clients and help them directly with their food requirements. For someone like me, who was essentially a stock boy, it was eye-opening in the extreme.
That’s because no client fits the same profile. Some are single, some are families, some can’t work, some are new to the country. They all had their own unique, yet challenging, situation.
One last thing that was also very apparent was the prevalence of mental health issues.
Mental health has entered the consciousness of our society more than ever before, and there’s now less of a stigma on mental illness than ever. However, we’re all learning to be more accepting and conscientious of the possible causes.
While volunteering that day, I asked myself: how much does a proper diet and hunger affect all of our mental states? 
I, for one, can attest hat having the opportunity to interact with others did wonders for my own mental disposition.
That said, everyone I spoke with after meeting with clients were grateful for the PFC and its volunteers. Clients also pitched in to help one another, and if a volunteer needed help (like myself), they even offered their assistance.
Perspective is a great thing and I was grateful of having the opportunity to be part of the day in the life of the Parkdale Food Centre.

Contact Brett on Twitter – @BSerjeantson

Volunteer perspective: Community Meals @ PFC


Once a month on a Friday night, Wendy Hepburn, Assistant Director with Citizenship and Multiculturalism, helps to organize a community meal at the Parkdale Food Centre in Ottawa. Community meals support the Food Centre’s goals to provide fresh, wholesome food to people in need, as well as teach members of the community how to cook healthy and delicious meals with simple ingredients.

As part of her volunteer duties, Wendy comes up with the menu and identifies a few dishes suitable for 25 to 30 volunteers and clients to make together. Preparation can include washing and peeling vegetables, cutting fruit, making dough and setting the table. Wendy loves watching people connect while they collaborate in the kitchen.

“Everyone gets a chance to learn and contribute,” she says. “Clients are teaching volunteers and volunteers are teaching clients.”

The community meals are about more than just providing good food for those who can’t afford it. They help people in need connect and socialize with their neighbours, fostering mental health as much as physical health.

“I find people really enjoy having something to look forward to on a Friday night.” Wendy says. “Sharing a meal and engaging with people in the community is pretty special. It helps fight isolation and loneliness, for volunteers and clients alike.”

Repost of article from Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s daily internal newsletter Today@CIC. Published with permission.

How does our garden grow?


If you’ve walked by our location lately, you may have noticed the new octagon-shaped planter in front of 30 Rosemount Avenue. This is our new Octogarden and it’s part of our new on-site gardening initiative. Not only does our new location offer us better ways to connect with our clients, we also have the chance to grow fresh produce that can be given to clients, used in our cooking classes and provide a way to teach people about growing their own food.

We’ve got two new garden plots – in the back we have a small area that we’ll use to grow vegetables such as tomatoes, bean, peppers, cucumbers and out front in our Octogarden we’ll grow herbs and snackable veggies like green peas.


Thanks to a fantastic team of volunteers and donations of gardening materials from the Wellington St. Home Hardware, Tamarack Wellington, Taggart and many individuals we were able to get our gardens set up and ready for growing.

Along with providing us with fresh food, our hope is that these gardens will have many fantastic trickle-down effects for our clients and community including learning about growing food, relaxing with nature and connecting with one another.

Now we’re just waiting for planting season! We’ve got a great group of volunteers and clients who are excited to get growing with us. Many thanks to the community for their support with this initiative. We lo  ok forward to showing of our garden through-out the year.


If you’d like to get involved, we’ve got some great opportunities for you:

  • Donate fresh vegetables from your garden. Register and learn more about our community gardening program.
  • Support our reverse food truck. Donate online in whatever way you want – support a cooking class, buy a crockpot, buy some milk, or a bag of food.
  • Stop by and visit our bright red van. The Parkdale Food Centre van will be out at community events and we’d love to meet you and accept your donations of vegetables, food and toiletries.

Meet VIcki! One of Our New Volunteers

We’ve got some new volunteers here at the Parkdale Food Centre, and we thought it would be a great idea to introduce them to you over the next few months.

vickiToday, we’d like you to meet Vicki. Vicki started volunteering with us in January and has been coming to the centre every Tuesday evening to help out. We sat down with Vicki and asked her a few questions about what brought her to us, her experiences at the Parkdale Food Centre and a few more nosey questions!

So why the Parkdale Food Centre?

Well, I had been looking for a place to volunteer for quite sometime and by fortunate luck I stumbled upon the Parkdale Food Centre. I think I first heard about PFC on CBC Radio and after that I started following the centre on social media. I really like the messages about good, healthy food and empowering people to be able to cook and learn about food.

I do live in Barrhaven so often people are surprised that I’m volunteering here. But for me, the location is irrelevant – rather it’s the actions and messages that are important to me. I try to “live” in the entire city of Ottawa so even though my house is in Barrhaven, I’m often out in Hintonburg, Westboro, the Gatineau Park, Stittsville, etc. whenever I can.

Why did you decide to spend your volunteer time on a food and community-oriented mission?

Well, I like food. I appreciate how rewarding and satisfying it is to have a good meal. Food is so vitally important to all of us. And I really don’t understand how in such a highly developed country we have so many people who cannot afford to purchase or even access good quality food. There is nothing that upsets me more than reading the statistics about children who go to school without breakfast and without a lunch.

Equally important to me is being able to make a tangible difference in the lives of other people. I’ve been so very lucky in my life with a stable childhood, a university education, a good job and lots of opportunities to travel and pursue my passions. Not very many people are this fortunate and I really believe it’s important to do what I can to make even a minor difference in someone’s day-to-day. So if this is simply making a batch of granola that we can hand out or pouring someone a cup of coffee and talking with them about their day – I’m happy and pleased to do it.

What do you do when you come to the Parkdale Food Centre to volunteer?

I help out in the kitchen. So some days I’m bagging up rice, oatmeal, tea, etc. to be made available for our neighbours when they come in to shop for their food. Other times I’m busy making big batches of granola that we portion out for neighbours (a healthier and more economical choice than boxed cereal). Some nights, I’m portioning out soup, making sandwiches, and other food to be served to neighbours when they come in.

It is non-stop in the kitchen on Tuesday night and I absolutely love it. I always go out and mingle with the neighbours and make sure everyone has eaten some of our fresh-cooked food. Sometimes this means I have to convince people that just because the soup is green it still tastes good!

Is there anything else you want to tell us about your experience so far?

Honestly, and I’m not exaggerating – coming to the Parkdale Food Centre on Tuesday evenings is the highlight of my week. In my short time volunteering at PFC, I’ve been fortunate to meet so many interesting people – both volunteers and neighbours. There is nothing better than seeing the smile on the face of someone when you give them a sandwich or a bowl of soup. I really do feel so lucky to get to be part of the Parkdale Food Centre.

I talk about my experiences with Parkdale Food Centre so much that I think my friends are growing tired of me talking about it… But, I believe this is part of it – if more people realised how easy it is to make a difference in someone’s life, I really think they would volunteer and help out.