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Community support sought for mobile greenhouse

Carol Vandersanden and Michelle Perry of We Grow Food are hoping the community will come together to support their vision for a mobile greenhouse in Oshawa. (Photo by Chris Jones)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa’s roads are going to start to look a little greener as a mobile greenhouse is making it’s way to the city.

We Grow Food has started a GoFundMe campaign to bring a mobile greenhouse to Oshawa. We Grow Food is an organization started by Carol Vandersanden, and other volunteers.

“This is our sixth year of being in Oshawa… and we thought that it was time to bring back the kitchen garden,” explains Vandersanden. “Back in the day everyone had a garden in their backyard. You’d go outside and you’d pick a little something and we’ve fallen away from that.”

In We Grow Food’s first year, they installed 23 private gardens in people’s backyards.

They then planted one neighbourhood garden, which is found at John and Albert streets.

“We very quickly realized that [with] the garden… the food became almost secondary to the social aspect,” says Vandersanden.

Since then, they’ve installed one garden every year across the community, including two in downtown Oshawa.

One is Alexandra’s Bounty on Simcoe Street, and the other is on Glen Street at Cordova Park.

We Grow Food has also helped to install a garden at Carea Community Health Centre.

They intend to use the mobile greenhouse to help provide education to the people of Oshawa.

“Imagine…! The Urban Farming Mobile Classroom rolling into the parking lot of a school, a community centre or event where all people can come tour and learn about Urban Farming….” reads the project’s GoFundMe page

After six years of developing gardens around the city, they felt they’ve developed a strong model to go by.

“There was this interest,” Vandersanden says. “People were always calling us and saying, ‘Do you go outside of Oshawa?’ but we were kind of small, so how could we manage that?”

“As the demand grew, we thought, ‘How about we buy an RV?’ So we did – we went out and we bought a 31-foot RV,” Vandersanden explains.

She says they are going to “retrofit” the vehicle to become a mobile greenhouse and             classroom.

“We will go around the region and outlying areas, and we’ll teach people where the food comes from, how to grow it, what we do with the food that we grow, and it just made it possible for us to hit that many more people,” explains Vandersanden.

Michelle Perry, who also works with We Grow Food, notes certain provincial programs regarding sustainable food growth have been cut.

She says these cuts also effect schools, so they believe that is another reason for them to provide education in the community.

“It was just a great way of finding that balance that where the cuts have been, we’re still making it easier for these things to happen. We believe it’s important, we believe in eating healthy, teaching people how to grow food, and doing it together,” says Perry.

The concept of the mobile greenhouse came about around a month ago, and the GoFundMe page was launched around two weeks ago.

“We’re doing fundraising from now until mid-September, and then the last week of September, we start the retrofit and that’ll take a few weeks, and then after that – depending on how much time there is – we are going to be having a launch party to present it to the world,” explains Vandersanden. They hope to have it all ready to go by April 2020

She also notes the project has already gained traction.

“Before we’ve even had renderings, pictures of it, before we even had all of the packages in place, people are already booking us for next year. So we know that the need is there, and the desire to have it happen is there. The tricky part is, of course, like everything, is funding it,” Vandersanden explains.

She also notes they don’t want to rely on grants, or on any one group. They want it to be a community project.

“We start with zero money with each project – we never have a pool of money in the bank. We have nothing, then we decide on a project, we find the money, we build it. It’s always worked out for us,” she says.

Perry notes their gardens are completely funded by donations.

The goal of the GoFundMe is $40,000, and Vandersanden says that is to cover the cost of the RV, as well as the retrofit. They’re hoping that is enough to do extensive work.

They are also looking for funds for irrigation and water storage, shelves and extra LED lighting, solar panel batteries and converters, increased natural light modifications, and more.

Vandersanden estimates the cost to run the project over two years will be approximately $152,000, but that will cover everything.

“There’s a large educational component,” she says. “So we have all our educational materials. You know, the storyboards that have to be done, the students, and the information books that will be provided to them.”

She also notes there will be seven or eight interactive activities for students.

“So, when we get there, we set up the RV, we set up an outdoor classroom, and kids migrate from station to station learning everything from wicking beds and irrigation to seed saving,” explains Vandersanden.

For those interested in donating, visit https://www.gofundme.com/we-grow-food039s-mobile-greenhouse-classroom

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