The downtown core of any large Canadian city can be a drab, dreary affair. Aside from the odd weed poking its hopeful head through a crack in the pavement, you could go blocks without seeing anything green. Office towers and parking lots dominate the landscape. But to a growing number of forward-thinking urban growers, every grey rooftop or spare patch of land is a lush garden space just waiting to happen.
Chris Velden is the master chef at Ryan Duffy’s, one of Halifax’s prime downtown eateries. His self-designed menu stresses local, and seasonal, foods. He’s also a rooftop gardener.
“I’m from Germany and we’ve been doing herb gardens and rooftop gardens for ages,” says Velden. “I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, so I started with a simple question. That question was: ‘Can I have the bees?’”
Along with an herb garden that grows more than 25 varieties of tasty herbs, Velden keeps four hives of honey bees atop the Hollis Street skyscraper that houses Ryan Duffy’s. Last year, these metropolitan bees produced over 50 pounds of honey, which found its way into the Chef’s signature sauces, dressings and honey-flavoured ice cream. Velden even had enough of the sweet stuff left over to release a limited edition Ryan Duffy’s Rooftop Label line of honey.
“The bees fly between two and three miles from the hive, so there’s a lot [of flowers] for them to choose from,” explains Velden. “And inner-city honey is the best honey you can get because it is pesticide-free.”
Bees need all the help they can get these days, and thanks to an ever-increasing degree of collaboration between the HRM and numerous ecology-conscious partners, helping out the pollinating propensity of Velden’s bees is getting easier. Community gardens across the HRM are on the rise, and resources for green-thumbed enthusiasts of all skill levels are readily available, and easily accessible. Gardening aficionado, and HRM councillor, Jennifer Watts explains:
“In the past two years, staff have responded to the growing interest on the part of residents in looking at community gardening, particularly on HRM land. There is actually now a process where you fill out an application to do a community garden. And we have staff that will help walk you through the process, and get you to the point where you can get onto the land.”
One of the most active groups helping the HRM get its garden on is the Ecology Action Centre. Carey Jernigan works as the outreach coordinator of the Urban Garden Project, one of several initiatives supported by the Food Action Committee of the EAC. “I collaborate with shelters, family resource centres, after-school programs and other community organizations here in Halifax,” says Carey. “Our involvement is unique to each group or garden and includes putting on workshops, growing food in the city, helping establish new gardens and simply attending events organized by others in the community to show our support.” The Halifax Garden Network is also a key resource for gardeners, and helps link those looking for garden space with those willing to share. Even if it’s space greening a rooftop.
“We live in a city of grey roofs, and it’s so easy to do,” says Velden. “It’s not rocket science. Just put some seeds in the ground and let it grow.”