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Drop In Centre garden project grows flowers, vegetables and a sense of community

'It’s such an important added piece to the Drop In Centre. It brings more people in, more donations and mostly, it brings in a better sense of community,' says Carlin Dykstra

A visit to the front yard of the Drop In Centre in Guelph will certainly turn some heads.

A garden, in a most unexpected area, is thriving with a splendid array of flowers and vegetables. 

Planting began in June and today, the garden continues to bloom thanks to two very dedicated individuals. 

Julia Masci and Francis Farwell, both avid gardeners, thought of the idea. 

“We thought, let’s put this piece of land to use and grow flowers and vegetables,” Masci said.

“And a month into the project, we were already to harvest.”

Swiss chard, kale, beans and cherry tomatoes have recently been harvested and then taken right to the kitchen at the Drop In Centre. 

“Everyone can get a fresh meal right from the garden. We have such a variety, you can just pick and eat,” Masci says. 

“I think to work in a garden you have to like it, especially in the heat we have had this summer. But, its all about growing food and flowers and being able to access free food. It started with a few hands and now its grown.”

The garden, part of the ‘Streetwise Community Initiative’, is a multi-organizational project that began after funding was approved from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services according to Carlin Dykstra, project manager with the Streetwise Community Initiative. 

“The goal is to support social recreation and volunteer opportunities for people who are street involved and are experiencing homelessness.”

The community-driven initiative has many local organizations taking part including: the Guelph Drop In Centre, the Guelph Community Health Centre, the City of Guelph, Guelph Police, Wyndham House, Guelph Neighborhood Support Coalition and Toward Common Ground. 

Funding has been approved from April 2018 until 2020. 

The Drop In Centre is a community space in downtown Guelph that offers a variety of services, especially for those living on a limited income. It provides a place to meet with friends and have a meal, access shelter if needed, and connect with support services to improve quality of life. 

The centre welcomes all individuals, offering a sense of community friendship, happiness and hope to everyone who walks in the door. It is a place for everyone — regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or any other factor.

The goal of the ‘Street Wise Initiative’ is to help foster relationships between homeless individuals and the community at large, to encourage opportunities for social integration and  individuals from entering the (loads) criminal justice system. 

“Francis and Julia have both been key to making this garden successful. It was their vision. They knew how they wanted to shape the garden and they knew what they wanted to plant,” Dykstra said.

“It’s such an important added piece to the Drop In Centre. It brings more people in, more donations and mostly, it brings in a better sense of community.”

Much of the produce that comes from the garden is donated. 

“Anyone can come and take care of the garden. That is what has helped make it successful,” says, Dykstra. 

“People come and continue to plant. It’s been so nice for those too who want to learn about gardening because sometimes economics get in the way so even if they come to water plants, it’s been wonderful.”

Masci, also teaches yoga at the Drop In Centre which is part of the “Street Wise Initiative”. She  works alongside her gardening partner, Farwell every Thursday from 10-3 pm. 

“People come to help and it’s so great. They water for us everyday, along with weeding and harvesting. It has been a real community effort.,” Masci says. 

“We are expanding all the time. It has grown into a place where we can build community. We just sit and talk and its and what better place then this where there are there are flowers and food. So many people are involved and the garden has brought interest into the Drop In Centre. Donations have grown which is so great.”

Masci says that donations are always welcome and appreciated. 

“But we would still love to receive some perennials and berry bushes because this is something we would like to see ongoing,” she says. 

Building community is the heart of the project. 

“People come and help and they tell stories They bond. And right in the downtown core. It’s space to help promote community,’ Masci says. 

“It shows we can grow so much food in a small space and everyone helps. All you need is community.”