New environmental education garden opens at St. Joseph’s Parish

Bob Whitelaw


A new community garden at St. Joe’s Supper Table on Laurier Avenue East is under development to offer environmental education to students and community youth.

The project was started in summer 2022 with the support of the TD Environmental Leaders Grant established by the University of Ottawa and TD Bank. It involves a partnership between University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education, St. Joe’s, and Genvironment Canada, which is an Ottawa-based youth-centred sustainability education organization.

In addition to growing vegetables like corn, beans, and squash (known as the Three Sisters), the new community gardens will also demonstrate the importance of native plants. Another aim of the garden is to provide habitat for local native insects and pollinators, while also sequestering carbon and organic matter in the soil.

The garden — located at the edge of the University of Ottawa campus — increases volunteer and “living classroom” opportunities for students at the University’s Faculty of Education.

Giuliano Reis, professor with the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education and Zakir Virani, lead educator and curriculum designer for Genvironment discuss the design plans.
Photo Michael Harrison

Professor Giuliano Reis with the Faculty of Education has been a key player in developing grant applications to support the garden. He says the space provides students with a nearby outdoor classroom to learn about environmental science and biodiversity, which will help students in their future careers as teachers.

The project also offers placement opportunities for student teachers from University of Ottawa to facilitate environmental education workshops with local elementary and high schools, as well as with community groups. The gardens recently expanded volunteer opportunities to all University of Ottawa students, regardless of faculty.

Also involved in the project is Genvironment. “Genvironment’s curriculum links experiential learning activities on regenerative agriculture, sustainable economics, history, and cultural studies,” explains Zakir Virani, lead educator and curriculum designer with the organization. In every case, Genenvironment’s focus is on social and environmental equity.

Virani’s role is to help communities develop local environmental initiatives through programs offered by Genvironment. The vision is that all youth can explore nature in their own backyards and develop a lifelong connection with the Earth and their community, in order to become environmental stewards and leaders.

St. Joe’s Supper Table has been actively engaged in the redesign of the garden space. The garden is accessible by clients of St. Joe’s Women’s Centre as well as the clients of St. Joe’s Supper Table. The space is also suitable for those who are in a wheelchair or use other mobility devices.

Kathleen Strader, interim operational coordinator for St. Joe’s Supper Table, welcomes the new learning initiative. In the past, the garden has provided vegetables for the Supper Table. Today, donations from other sources provide the needed vegetable and garden produce. Strader says the new use of the garden for environmental education is welcomed.

The garden at St. Joseph’s Parish is a pilot project to see what can be accomplished in a small urban space. Virani says he hopes the garden will continue to grow and develop into a biodiverse ecological hub, as well as an educational hub that can be enjoyed by all — students, teachers, and Sandy Hill community members alike.

Organizers and volunteers start the work during the summer to redesign and rebuild the community gardens at St. Joseph’s Parish as part of the St. Joe’s Supper Table community programs. Left to right are Noémie Pound, Emily Bruce, Sarah Bruce, Brad Gilmour, Winston Edwards, Zakir Virani, Joy Weng, and Patricia Malikail.
Photo Michael Harrison