Sloped garden section, recently developed from techniques brought in by community members, Summer 2022. Photo by Maria Alonso Novo.
By: Maria Alonso Novo
The Common Roots Urban Farm lives, grows, teaches and learns with gratitude on Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people.
On a beautiful day in late May 2022, I got to visit a few of the MetroWorks facilities in Halifax through a car tour with Dave Rideout, CEO of the organization . Dave has worked in the non-profit sector for his whole life and started working at Metroworks in 2009. He was very kind to invite me to see all of the different spaces and spoke proudly of all the work being done at the different facilities.
Metroworks focuses on employment skills training to help people obtain meaningful and sustainable work. In order to provide people with employment skills, Metroworks employs 100 full time staff members and currently hosts 13 programs to accommodate different interests and career ambitions. Through the workshops and experiences, they are able to provide people with employment skills and reference letters that they can later use to pursue their own goals. The initiative funded by the Healthy Community Initiatives (HCI) is an extension to the two Common Roots Urban Farms: the BiHi Park in Halifax and the Woodside Site in Dartmouth. Both farms are slowly growing to accommodate the huge demand for these kinds of spaces as social infrastructure.
Each Common Roots Farm is divided into common areas, a market garden, and community allotment plots. These spaces use organic gardening as a method of practice. Common areas are open for the public to sit, gather, touch, and taste from. In addition, the market garden aims to produce food to sell in local markets or donate to community members. The community allotment plots are rented or donated for people to grow their own food. During our visit, the signage was being updated and we got to see the new colours and accessible signs that will soon guide people around both farms. The braille within the signs was made in consultation with a blind community member who will soon host a blindfolded tour of the BiHi farm to guide people in feeling the garden from her perspective.
Community members participating in the blindfolded garden tour as a part of the Celebration of Summer event held June, 2022. Photo by Bethanee Diamond.
Although there are segmented spaces for these activities, the staff works hard to accommodate people’s abilities. For example, they offer larger plots for people such as a mother-daughter business growing medicinal plants, or the Freedom School, who brings their kids to this space so they can engage with the gardens and see the plants grow. Furthermore, in Woodside, they just started a plot directly on a small hill to take advantage of newcomers’ knowledge on sloped gardening. Both farms invite new Canadians into their spaces and provide them with a place to grow food that might not be available in supermarkets. Dave mentioned how these foreign plants also serve to spark conversations around recipes and invite people to share a piece of their original homes with each other.
During my visit, I got to enjoyed the wonderful views from the Dartmouth Farm, which also welcomes clients from the hospital on whose land the farm operates. When walking into the catering kitchen, I was lucky enough to see and smell the delicious bread and sweets that would later impress everyone at the CUIxHalifax public events. The space also contains multiple classrooms where Metroworks hosts skill building workshops and certification courses. As a beautiful finish to the visit, we walked from the office, across a parking lot, and into the Halifax farm that took over an underutilized park and now fills it with life and people.
Metroworks facilities, Summer 2022. Photo by Maria Alonso Novo
There are other community gardens in Halifax; however, both of the Common Roots Urban Farms are unique in having staff available to help people in taking care of their plots and coordinating special programming. Right now, the team is hosting a Spring Workshop Series where they teach people about container farming, soil quality, worms, and pollinators. They are also developing a video project consisting of six interviews highlighting clients and their stories. A future project coming soon is the continuation of a collaboration with students from Dalhousie on the possibility of vertical gardening in containers, which can increase productivity in spaces where the soil is a little more rocky.
The Common Roots Urban Farms are beautiful spaces where clients were made to feel comfortable and happy working with their hands and engaging in the common experience of growing food and sharing it with their families and communities. There is a large waiting list for more community plots so both farms keep growing to invite more people in.
If you are ever in Halifax, feel free to visit, hang out ,and pick food from any of the common plots while you engage with other people interested in gardening. Don’t forget to admire the view!
To learn more about Metroworks and their efforts across Halifax, click here: https://www.mymetroworks.ca/