Steph Pronk from Common Good Solutions: Can you describe to us in a few words what you do, in Common Roots Urban Farm’s social enterprise, the Market Garden?
Jayme Melrose from Common Roots Urban Farm: We are a social enterprise that grows nutritious food in an educative context in the middle of the city. It’s the third year of our farm. There’s two staff , one summer student, four key volunteers, and many helpers!. Our farm is beautiful with a few art installations and great veggies! Feel free to visit any evening between 3 and 6.
S: Cool! And what would you like to see CRUF and the Market Garden achieve?
J: My ultimate vision is to encourage urban agriculture so there are more urban farms throughout the city - less lawn, more farms!
We want to see more high quality produce as a result of providing a valuable social & ecological space.
S: My understanding is that you have a program that helps grow the food to sell at the market garden?
J: Yes, our Deep Roots program. These are the four key volunteers I mentioned. The program is open to new Canadians with an agricultural background. These immigrants and refugees help run the market garden. We learn from each other – farming techniques for community connections: we help each other.
Like I said, many of the participants of Deep Roots are refugees - and refugees that are in their 50’s. Imagine moving to a new country in your fifties! It’s obviously challenging. I am always amazed at their strength and resourcefulness.
So one the folks in the program built this big, BEAUTIFUL water cistern - he saw the need, knew he had the skills, and found the resources, and just built it on our lot! It is amazing.
In the course of building the tank and working with others on the farm, he learned enough English to be able to tell us his story and communicate his needs. The growth was noticeable. This really increased my appreciation of the challenges of immigration and the value of this beautiful human: To see someone regaining their capacity is really rewarding.
S: Wow, that’s really an amazing story! So you obviously are doing great social work that’s supported by your social enterprise, the Market Garden. How are you then, in return, living your values? That is, are you also buying and supporting social and/or local?
J: We’re definitely part of the buy local movement - people are excited to buy from us because we’re so local and they can see what’s happening. They’re buying greens anyway so they might as well buy them from a place that they know is working on a variety of levels, not only through our social work but for the healthiness of our food, and for the peace of mind of knowing where their food is coming from.
And yes, we buy social and local at every opportunity: We buy lumber from small sustainable woodlots, we repurpose materials at every opportunity including bricks leftover from the old QEH school, we buy from other social enterprises whenever possible.
I’m really excited we’re part of Buy Social to help our customers and clients to see there is language around this and that there’s an opportunity to do more with their dollars. It helps us see that our dollars have much more impact buying social.
S: We know that trying to generate revenue like a business while running a social program is more difficult than doing just one or the other. What challenges are you facing these days?
J: We’re definitely facing challenges! We’re trying to find a financially sustainable non-profit business model in a period of austerity. As a non-profit we need to account our finances and our impact: two bottom lines on half the revenue!
And farming’s really tough because of the tiny profit margins and social expectation of cheap food Understanding our cost of production is challenging as the main input is many brief labour intervals, plus many variables..
Plus, we’re farming in a downtown public location where potential for theft is high, so there are compound pressures.
S: So then, how do you see Buy Social Certification helping CRUF and the Market Garden?
It’s great to be part of this social enterprise community, of projects contributing to our communities in multiple ways.
Part of the Buy Social program is about community economic development. I like that lens on our farm and so any sort of advice and encouragement and support we can get from that feels really good to me.
For more info about Common Roots and their Market Garden, go visit them! See info below:
The Market Garden runs on Tues 3-6 on the Farm (corner of Robie St. and Bell Rd.) Thurs 3-6 in the Hydrostone.
Stop by the farm to see it in action anytime 3-6 during the week.
If you’re looking to rent a plot and grow your own veggies there next year, contact Jayme as soon as possible as the wait list is filling up! firstname.lastname@example.org