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  • Writer's pictureItsik Romano

Harvesting Humanity: West Island Solidarity Gardens

Woman smiling holding a crate of harvested vegetables.
Image Courtesy of

A community initiative is back in full force this year, bringing with it fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs to the tables of compromised populations that have been struck hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the West Island Solidarity Gardens initiative began last year, no one could have possibly guessed the ways in which the needs for the project would multiply.

Not Just A Public Health Issue

When Suzanne Scarrow (West Island Mission) joined forces with Shawn Manning from Urban Seedling (a Montreal-based business that specializes in creating organic vegetable gardens in urban areas) in 2019, their goal was to collaborate at the corporate level and bring urban gardening into businesses looking to increase their green thumb. When the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, Scarrow and her colleagues saw the pressing need for food security at the community level and got to work.

The Coronavirus pandemic is undoubtedly a health issue. Beyond public health and safety though, it is a social issue; a humanity issue. For vulnerable and at-risk populations facing food insecurity, the West Island Solidarity Gardens initiative is a resource people can turn towards to find comfort and kindness. Further, it is a resource they can find high-quality, organic, sustainable nutrition in.

vegetable garden, fresh herbs, crate
Image Courtesy of Morgan Weinmeister
“Not only are we grateful to be able to repeat again our Solidarity Gardens initiative, we have doubled our number of garden beds for this growing season. This has allowed us to welcome even more partners and additional community organizations, benefiting even more individuals struggling with food insecurity.”

- Suzanne Scarrow, Executive Director, West Island Mission

The West Island Mission, alongside Corbeille de Pain has made it possible to support over 750 West Island Families faced with food insecurity this year. The seemingly unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for initiatives like these all the more pressing.

The project has grown and evolved over the last year. Local food banks across the west island have seen an increase of between 20% and 50% in the number of households requesting food baskets or facing some form of food insecurity. Compromised groups, including but not limited to senior residents, those suffering from chronic illnesses, minority populations, individuals with disabilities, and those living below the poverty line have all been greatly affected by the increased pressure to put food on the table for themselves and their families.

Expansion and Growth

This year, the West Island Solidarity Gardens have expanded their horizons to make food sustainability and accessibility achievable for all households. A newly implemented balcony gardening solution has “created the ability to reach residents who do not have access to land but still want to develop their green thumbs and help their community.” Furthermore, to combat the possibility of food waste, Corbeille De Pain will buckle down on its food transformation processes, producing jams, sauces, and other pantry items with long shelf lives to sell back to the community at low cost.

11 garden beds in West Island YMCA's back yard.
Image Courtesy of Morgan Weinmeister

The initiative, which has once again been funded by the West Island Community Shares has joined forces this year with the West Island YMCA and its youth programs. Quite literally in their backyard, what was once considered a dead space at the YMCA is now the home of 11 beds harvesting a variety of produce from lettuce to tomatoes, to cilantro, and even fennel. West Island News had the privilege to see the YMCA’s youth in action first hand, hard at work planting what will become a local harvest for food banks across the West Island including the West Island Mission, On Rock Community Services, West Island Assistance Fund, Corbeille de pain, Marché Solidaire A-Ma-Baie, and L’Équipe.

In addition to those previously mentioned, six more community organizations will benefit from the initiative this year: West Island YMCA, Centre Bienvenue, West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped, OMEGA Community Resources, Pierrefonds Community Project, and AJOI’s shelter (Halte Transition de l’Ouest-de-l’Île).

What does this mean for West-Islanders?

Whether you are a long-time gardener, or new to the trade of growing produce at home, “the Solidarity Gardens initiative encourages West Islanders to help our local food banks and other community organizations address food insecurity and receive fresh produce throughout the growing season.”

If you or someone you know could benefit from the initiative, visit

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