Public housing

As food prices soar, Winnipeg social housing residents are learning to grow their own

Arlene Reid has never gardened before, but with food prices soaring in recent months, the Winnipegger thought she had better learn.

“Food prices are so expensive right now, I thought the best way [to save] is to go out and make my own fruits and vegetables,” she said.

Reid was one of the attendees at a gardening event hosted by the Marlene Street Community Resource Center in St. Vital on Thursday afternoon.

The executive director of the centre, which is located in the Marlene Street family housing estate, said the event was set up to get people outside, while giving them the tools and supplies they need to grow their own food.

This included seeds, soil and pots to put it in, Angela Konkin said.

Angela Konkin is the Executive Director of the Marlene Street Community Resource Center. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

While growing fruits and vegetables can be a way to offset rising food costs, it can pose a challenge for those living in the housing estate, she said.

“It’s not easy to garden here. There’s not a lot of space and not a lot of access to gardening supplies and equipment,” she said.

“We’ve really scaled it down to a micro version, so they’ve got a little box and a little jar and some seeds.”

Food security has certainly been a top concern for development dwellers in recent months, as inflation makes everything more expensive, Konkin said.

“Every day we talk to people…who struggle to some degree with food, so it’s a very, very common problem,” she said.

“And I sort of predict it’s probably going to get worse.”

The Marlene Street Community Resource Center is located in the Marlene Street family housing development in the St. Vital neighborhood of Winnipeg. It provides support and services to residents of the subdivision as well as people in the surrounding area. (Sarah Petz/CBC)

It’s certainly a huge concern for Reid, who says budgeting has become much more difficult.

“I’m very careful now when it comes to fruit and veg in particular. It used to be a bit tight, if it goes bad, throw it away,” she said.

“Now I say to myself, if it goes bad, we always use it, because we can’t afford to throw things away.”

She said it’s frustrating that junk food is still cheap, but it’s getting harder and harder to buy fruits and vegetables.

“This [is] things we need. It’s a matter of survival for us.”

Fight against food insecurity

Harvest Manitoba also helps people grow their own food, so they have a sustainable and safe source of food.

Before the pandemic, the food bank network had its own community garden behind its Winnipeg headquarters.

He also organized various programs to give people the supplies and knowledge they need to grow food at home, said Meaghan Erbus, senior director of community food network and advocacy for Harvest Manitoba.

“I think people often have the opportunity to supplement their costs. A tomato at Superstore can cost up to $1.50, while a free seedling from Harvest can cost $20. [tomatoes],” she says.

Since gardening supplies, from pots to soil to seeds, can be expensive, it’s important to have programs that offer them for free, says the senior director of the Community Food Network and Advocacy. interests of Harvest Manitoba. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

But gardening supplies can be expensive, so events like the Marlene Street Community Resource Center that make it more affordable are important, Erbus said.

“Floor is expensive. Space is expensive, depending on where you live. The majority of people who access our services live in apartments or townhouses, so they have a smaller space to grow in,” she said.

“So it’s very important for people like us and other community-minded organizations to offer things at no cost… [to] encourage people to be able to do it.”

Housing development gives residents tools and supplies to grow their own food

A Winnipeg resource center is trying to make a small dent in its community’s food budget by donating gardening supplies. The Marlene Street Resource Center this week distributed seeds, soil and pots to people who want to try their hand at growing their own food.