I’ve been thinking a lot lately about cooperative community models and their ability to inspire a sense of both pride and ownership across communites. Whether it’s a DIY bike shop, a tool lending library, or a place to purchase, prepare and learn about food in community, the underlying principles of cooperatives are the same. In some shape or form, people are coming together to “cooperate” for their mutual, social, economic, and cultural benefit. Cooperatives generally imply a formalized governance structure however more and more, communities are coming together under the principals of cooperative governance in an informal way.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of travelling to St. Luke’s United Church in St. Margaret’s Bay to participate in a full day workshop on Cooperative Greenhouses. The event was put on by Transition Bay St Margaret’s, a group that is part of a network of global communities that are committed to re-building community resilience and reducing Co2 emissions. It’s a transition from oil-based energy production to more sustainable and self-sufficient ways of living. Say for example, the transformation of local food production through Cooperative Greenhouses.
The workshop showcased three cooperative greenhouse models, each with their own unique approach to growing food, and community.
Bob Cervelli is part of Transition Bay St Margaret’s and told us the story of how he transformed his personal greenhouse into the “No-Guilt Greenhouse Coop”. Every Spring it engages 20+ households in growing thousands of seedlings to be distributed among backyard and community gardens across the region. Ah-mazing:)
Next up Mike Carey, who works with the founders of the Food is Sacred Coop in the Jollimore area, spoke about their 20’ x 24’ greenhouse that provides a place for community residents to regularly come together to seed, maintain and harvest fresh vegetables.
And finally, I presented on the Bloomfield Community Greenhouse. With a total of 10 members, these residents of the North End of Halifax participate in greenhouse growing for a variety of purposes. Some grow fresh veggies for their households while others grow seedlings for local community gardens. We even have some folks growing fresh micro greens for their emerging sprout business! Another special thing about this greenhouse is it’s passive solar design and although news to me, it’s a version of a bio shelter!
After presentations we moved into an afternoon of season extension techniques, and all the “how-to” of setting up a greenhouse, as well as other season extension structures. It was TONS of information to take in, but at the end of the day, what I took away from this amazing day of knowledge sharing was this:
1) RESOURCES ARE MEANT TO BE SHARED. When resources are shared, the impact spreads far and wide. Much farther and wider than any single individual or household. We need to look at our existing spaces and think about re-purposing, sharing, and new ways of collaboration. Also, we should be thinking about the design of public space through the lens of community gathering, building, and strengthening.
2) MANY HANDS MAKE LIKE WORK. We know this, but let’s meditate on it. Think about how many seeds can be planted, how much food can be grown, or soil moved by 40 hands, versus 2. Whether its friends or strangers, get together with other people to make heavy work lighter, and way more fun!
3) Find a way, or many ways, to TELL YOUR STORY. Write articles, start a face-book page, host a workshop, or scream it from the rooftops. Tell people what you’re doing, share your lessons learned, and be a model for others to replicate. We’re all in this together, let’s learn from one another and create communities of practice.
I know, that’s a big statement, but there’s something deep inside me that feels its importance. And No, I’m not saying that we all need to grow ALL of our own food, but perhaps just a tomato or two:) If every community or neighbourhood had a place for community food production, at least everyone would have the chance to see what brussel sprouts or broccoli look like in the ground. They’re very curious looking plants.
Author: Aimee Carson. Community Food Coordinator. Ecology Action Centre