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Urban-grown produce fills baskets at West Island food bank

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Urban agriculture is turning underused green spaces into vegetable gardens, filling local food banks like the West Island Mission with fresh produce.

Crops are planted and harvested from May until October to ensure food bank clients have nutritious, organic vegetables in their baskets.

This is the first year West Island Mission, located on Labrosse Avenue in Pointe-Claire, is farming in Senneville. At 2,000 square feet, it's the biggest of their 120 plots and planters across the West Island.

Jack Jones, operations manager for Wet Island Mission, said all those gardens add up.

"It works out to be a lot of really nice greens," he told CTV News.

Each green space is maximized, and the growing season season is extended to collect three to four harvests before the frost settles in.

"We grew a whole bunch of lettuce, it timed out perfectly for the fall harvest. Lettuce, radishes, zucchinis, bok-choy, arugula -- things that do well in colder weather," said Jones.

The produce gets picked at its peak twice a week and is brought straight to the food bank.

"We have stuff that's coming in from Fritz Farm, from the city farms, so we put all that together, and it's weighed and measured at the West Island Mission. So by the end, it should be close to eight to 10 thousand kilos, and next year, we hope it will be even more than that," explained West Island Mission executive director Suzanne Scarrow.

REPLACING GRASS WITH GARDENS

Based in Verdun, the company Urban Seedling plants high-yield gardens in underused green spaces on private or public land.

"That space can be better used to grow food and help people who are having a hard time these days," said co-founder Shawn Manning.

Urban Seedling's mantra is why not plant an "edible oasis" where a patch of grass used to be.

Manning said that giving back is part of their own mission.

"To be able to have that positive impact is so important to me. I grew up in food insecurity, and Father Emmett Johns was a huge influencer."

Johns was the founder of Dans la Rue, a homeless shelter and support organization for Montreal youth.

"Before he started Dans La Rue he would come to our house," Manning recalled. "He was my mom's chaplain when she was in an orphanage as a kid, and he would come in and check in on us when I was young."

The hope is that bit by bit, urban gardens will nurture generosity for neighbours in need.

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