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Southcentre Mall creates rooftop garden to help Calgary charity

Southcentre Mall has launched a new rooftop garden, and the vegetables and herbs harvested from it will help feed Calgary's less fortunate.

Staff at the mall worked with urban farming company MicroHabitat and Honey Meadow Farms to create the garden, which contains 100 planters.

"From a mall perspective, we keep things in consideration like weight and water and all these things," said Alexander Velosa, Southcentre Mall marketing manager. "So we work with engineers, we worked with our partner MicroHabitat to make sure that everything was in place to have a safe garden here."

MicroHabitat CEO Orlane Panet says the garden could yield more than 450 kilograms of produce this summer.

"Rooftops spaces and urban areas in general are just optimal for growing fresh produce," said Panet. "And by doing so, we're also helping the urban environment, we're reducing heat waves, we're helping with rainwater management and replenishing the environment with biodiversity."

Panet says someone from her team will visit the garden weekly to make sure everything is growing as it should.

"When we're integrating urban farms, the setup that we're creating is always considering the local conditions," she said. "Here, we look at the space, wind factors, sun exposure and we decided on the varieties, but we're pushing a lot of varieties to make sure that we have flavorful harvests and also highly nutritious, fresh produce."

Velosa says the urban garden project started a few years ago when bee colonies were set up on the rooftop.

Arielle Zwiers Honey Meadows Farms has brought two of her colonies this season and says it won't take long for the bees to get to work.

"They will definitely start with these flowers because they're closest and then they will expand their circle and get the neighboring communities and all the yards and schools and boulevards and everything like that."

Zwiers says there is a good water supply on the roof for the bees, and she'll be monitoring their health regularly. Zwiers says pollinators can increase the yield of an urban garden.

"It'll be the difference from having a strawberry that's all shriveled up versus a strawberry that's plump and juicy when you have pollinators that are working on it," she said.

The produce grown on the rooftop will be donated to Calgary's Made by Momma.

The charity is volunteer driven and offers practical peer-to-peer support for mothers and families facing situations of adversity and crisis.

"We really rely on having healthy nutritious meals," said Allyson Palaschuk, Made by Momma board chair. "So fresh carrots and potatoes and onions and zucchini like those are all amazing things to put in the dishes that we create, and so we really want more veggies."

Palaschuk says the operation can be compared to a food bank, but instead of just providing grocery staples, it prepares and distributes large-batch homemade frozen meals to clients who are facing food insecurity or are unable to cook for their families.

"One hundred pots growing just for us is incredible," she said. "I can't wait to the end of the season to actually see what this amounted to, and how many families we were able to feed because of this garden."

In 2022, Made by Momma supported 12,992 individuals, and in the first three months of 2023 alone, they received requests for support from more than 600 families. 

"I think it is the start of something really good here," said Palaschuk. "We're really grateful to Southcentre for a having the brainchild and to reach out to us and say, 'listen, we really like what you're doing in the community, and we want to be a part of it, and this is how we can do it.'"

More than 150 local agencies refer their clients to Made by Momma, which may include families facing a critical medical diagnosis, those fleeing domestic violence, parents managing the birth of multiples and newcomers to Calgary.

Velosa hopes the rooftop garden will be an annual event.

"We're hoping that this is the beginning, we hope that we continue growing, the roof is huge so we have a lot of space," she said. "If we can encourage other people to promote urban farming, we will be there as well for that."

Learn more about the roof top garden, which is not accessible to the public, you can visit Southcentre's website. Top Stories


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