Baie-d'Urfé farm brings youth back to the garden

Baie-d'Urfé farm brings youth back to the garden
Baie-d'Urfé farm brings youth back to the garden

Volunteers from the Fritz Farm Youth Gardening Association were busy harvesting about 185 pounds of produce destined for local food banks on Saturday. Richard Gregson

With fall approaching, the volunteers from the Fritz Farm Youth Gardening Association (FFYGA) are busy harvesting another crop from its lush public garden in Baie-d’Urfé.

Now in its fourth year, the community volunteer organization is dedicated to donating its organic, pesticide free crops to local food banks or charities in the West Island.

Everything from freshly-picked tomatoes, egg plant, beans and zucchini will soon find their way to the Meals on Wheels branch in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, West Island Volunteer Bureau, On Rock Community Services, West Island Mission, St. Columba by the Lake Food Ministry and West Island Assistance Fund.

Brian Manning, a local town councillor who spearheaded the Garden at Fritz program along with Daja Vodanoic and Isabelle-Anne Bisson, said one of the aims of the outdoor gardening initiative is to involve local youth “in bettering their community.”

“We wanted to involve youth as much as possible to teach them about gardening, and teach them about work ethics and give them some social responsibilities and social values,” Manning said.

Getting youth actively involved in gardening on a regular basis is a challenge, he admitted, but the program is making strides.

“Every year it gets easier,” Manning said. “We get more volunteers, and   the process becomes more refinished. We find different tricks to make it easier, less work and grow more produce.”

Last year, the Fritz garden yielded over 4,000 pounds of produce. All of it was harvested on a 10,000-square foot plot located on Fritz Farm.

Richard Gregson, one of the program’s directors, said last year’s bumper crop of tomatoes “was enough to produce tomato sauce for 4,000 pizzas.”

This year, the pumpkin patch is gaining in size and popularity with youngsters who are vying for the “biggest pumpkin” competition bragging rights, Gregson said.

“The kids in the town came along at the beginning of the season and planted a seed which we give them. They are seeds from giant varieties of pumpkins. And then in October around the 21st, we harvest them and weigh them. And we give prizes to the biggest one.”

The pumpkin patch contest aside, Gregson said getting youth interested in gardening remains a challenge.  

“Part of the original idea of the garden was not just to produce food for the food banks. There was a secondary interest in that we wanted to provide an opportunity for young people in the town to actually see that vegetables don’t all come from the supermarket. (We wanted them) to get their hands dirty and have a go at it themselves.

“That’s been a partial success. We have kids who get involved quite regularly, often encouraged by their parents. And we’ve had some of the schools involved over the years, but there are so many other things going on (with kids), the adults often have to finish the project for them.”

FFYGA, now headed by Robert Brown, has a mailing list of about 80 people, but Gregson said only about a dozen or so volunteers are keen gardeners.

Members meet Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. But some people go more often to tend to the crops, Manning noted.

As a child growing up in Baie-d’Urfé, Manning saw gardening on his family’s property as a “weeding” chore for him and his siblings. But now he finds mixing his labour with the soil an enjoyable outdoor endeavour.

“The Fritz garden is on a very gentle sloping part of the land,” he said. “The ground is very fertile. Our produce grows really well, and there is a nice view of the lake there. It’s relaxing,” he said.

And it only gets easier with each passing harvest.

Seedlings are grown at the nearby McGill horticultural centre, and staff there graciously plough the Fritz garden in spring and fall with heavy equipment.

“We even have an automatic watering system now,” Manning boasted.

“The first year we were running around with 300 feet of hose.”

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