We’re not just growing vegetables on our rooftops here at Bread for the City. We’re growing gardeners.

Some of our clients have never really seen a garden before, let alone worked in one themselves. Many people, however, have fond memories of gardening in their youth (as part of family and community traditions), but no longer have access to green space these days. For all, our rooftop gardens are an opportunity to learn about food at its source, and to develop some capacity for growing it ourselves.

So in addition to our daily open hours (Monday through Thursday, 9-11am), we’re also conducting gardening workshops to learn and practice together. In these workshops, a mix of staff, volunteers and clients learn how to make their own containers, how to plant them, and facts about different herbs. We learn the science behind the plants and then we our hands dirty. Participants also enjoy lunch prepared with fresh ingredients grown right there in the garden. At the end of the workshops, clients receive both produce and potted plants to take home for their own budding gardens!

Brenden Armstrong, a local professional horticulturist, has been joining us to share best practices and ideas for how to grow vegetables and herbs in containers. Here’s what Brenden says about the class:

During the first class clients had the opportunity to plant basil, tomato, and pepper plants. For the second class they planted more herbs including thyme, oregano, lavender, and mint.

All of these plants were chosen because they are easy to grow both within and outside of the home, and they also provide good yields. Most herbs will supply plenty throughout the year when harvested correctly; basil, for instance, can be harvested every few weeks. Tomatoes and peppers can also be grown easily and grow enough that a couple of plants will suffice for each person in the household.

Throughout the workshops we emphasized the opportunities to use materials around clients’ homes to reduce the costs of gardening. We talked about how you can make everyday items such as yogurt cups and plastic juice jugs into containers for growing vegetables and herbs.

Those who came to the workshops varied in their interests and backgrounds. Some participants had a lot of experience, and were even able to share their own knowledge; and for others this was their first time working with plants. Students caught on very quickly to what was taught and everyone contributed their thoughts to the class. Someone even called it “mind-opening.” People were especially pleased to be able to pot up their own plants and take them home.

Now, since these workshops were held late in the season, neither the clients nor I had a chance to start the plants from seed. (Starting plants from seed saves a lot of money and also allows you to choose from many more varieties than you can buy in the store.) So I made sure to choose seedlings that will nevertheless produce by the end of this season. This would allow participants to feel successful and make them more confident to continue gardening.

This is all still an experiment. So far we’ve received feedback from our clients on what kinds of plants we should grow, and what kinds of workshops we should be organizing. Ultimately, we hope to see clients take a leading role in all aspects of the garden.

Our workshops are developing into a real regular schedule, with some during the week and others on weekends (often with expert instruction by OLD CITY Green – stay tuned for another post on them). You can see the calendar here.

Meanwhile, you can feel free to come by to check out our garden even without a workshop! Ask the front desk if you’re in our building, or contact Jeff Wankel at (651) 325-8918 or jwankel@breadforthecity.org with any questions. And, of course, these programs are all made possible by your support. Please help this Community Supported Agriculture initiative by making a donation (of cash or soil!) today.