“I was sad when I logged onto this call, but now I’m feeling better,” says Patricia Young as she waves bye to the others on a Zoom meeting.
Patricia is a member of the Salad Club, a group of residents who have been meeting regularly over Zoom to support each other in growing greens at home.
Participants in the Salad Club received microgreen starter kits and container gardening supplies through the Growing Together While Apart project, with funding from the United Way Peterborough and District and the Government of Canada.
Microgreens are super foods packed with nutrients that are easy and fun to grow at home.
“The thing that really excites me most is eating them, that’s why I grow them,” says Jackie Sherry, another club member on the Zoom meeting.
“I’m a visual person, and I can picture all the nutrients in my system,” Jackie says, laughing as she shows her biceps to the other participants
Other participants agree that the additional nutrition to their diet from their homegrown greens has been valuable for their health. Equally valuable has been the opportunity to connect virtually with one another.
Through the winter and spring, the group met on a weekly basis to check in with each other and support their growing efforts. Some participants were already seasoned gardeners, others started as beginners, and many had never tried growing microgreens before.
“I have really enjoyed it,” says Annette White. “First of all, it was delicious. The radish was hotter than a firecracker. I have to say, I don’t have a green thumb — it’s gone to heaven. But this was so easy. What a great thing to get through the winter.”
When you wake up in the morning, what makes you smile?
For the members of the Salad Club, the thought of tending to their windowsill garden does. For many people, working in the garden brings joy to the day’s routine. Not only is it rewarding to tend to things and watch them grow, but working on a garden is also a great way to connect with people.
Connecting with people is an important element to maintaining good health. In modern urban environments, however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to connect with other community members.
In previous GreenUP columns, I’ve explored the importance of how we design public spaces. Poor accessibility and a lack of shared greenspace can contribute to inequality, low quality of life, and poor health indicators in urban communities.
Loneliness is another factor to consider on this theme.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness in cities was already recognized as a serious health problem. A 2020 report from Stats Canada identified social isolation among seniors as a “serious public health concern.”
This report found that the health impacts of social isolation and loneliness are “on par with or greater than more traditional risk factors such as alcohol use, smoking, and obesity.”
In March 2019, a full year before the pandemic started, an episode of CBC Ideas explored the “epidemic” of urban loneliness and how loneliness can lead to “increased risks for heart disease, anxiety, depression and dementia.”
As we see in many other areas of the social determinants of health, marginalized communities are also at a higher risk of being lonely and socially isolated. Similarly, urban loneliness can adversely impact individuals who require mobility devices and accessible infrastructure to move around their communities.
According to a 2019 Canada-wide survey by the Tamarack Institute, negative feelings associated with loneliness and lack of connection can be amplified in individuals who identify as a senior, single, Indigenous, a visible minority, LGBTQ2+, or having a physical disability.
We need to plan and design cities and infrastructure that create inclusive, healthy neighbourhoods for all individuals. Beyond how we plan and design cities, there are many things we can do as a community to encourage social interaction in the public realm.
COVID-19 has perhaps made us more aware of the impacts of loneliness and how we can address it. Through the pandemic, many of us have learned how we can support connection even when we are sheltering at home. Through GreenUP’s neighbourhood programs, we have heard how deep a desire there is amongst residents for a stronger sense of belonging and connection.
Many participants of the Salad Club also came to meetings of the Community Fruit Group. Together, we explored what it takes to pursue community fruit growing projects in Nogojiwanong/Peterborough.
Participants in the Community Fruit Group, a partnership between GreenUP and the Nourish Project, shared knowledge with experts in fruit tree care. Plans are in the works to add some great fruit trees to community spaces. We dream of one day sipping sweet apple cider under the shade of thriving grape vines in a few years’ time.
The Growing Together While Apart project highlights the value of participating in collective work. We feel connected to something greater than ourselves when we participate in collective work. Collective work gives us reason to reach out to each other. All these things contribute to our well-being by attending to our basic needs and building community fulfillment, self-actualization, and belonging.
Over the summer and fall, we will be working on another collective project: a virtual scrapbook project showcasing great places and spaces in the city. Every two weeks we’ll suggest a theme: places to sit, places to play, places you’re proud of, places where you connect to water, places within walking distance, etc. We invite you to submit pictures from your neighbourhood.
Stay tuned to GreenUP’s social media @PtboGreenUP and sign up to our e-newsletter at greenup.on.ca/newsletter-signup.