As meals costs soar, Winnipeg public housing residents study to develop their very own

Arlene Reid has never gardened before, but with the price of food rising dramatically in recent months, the Winnipegger figured she better learn how. 

“Food prices are so expensive right now, I figured the best way [to save] is to come out and make my own fruits and vegetables,” she said. 

Reid was one of the participants who came out to a gardening event hosted by the Marlene Street Community Resource Centre in St. Vital on Thursday afternoon.

The executive director of the centre, which is located in the Marlene Street family public housing development, said the event was organized to get people outside, while also giving them the tools and supplies they needed to grow their own food.

That included seeds, soil and pots to put it in, said Angela Konkin.

Angela Konkin is the executive director of the Marlene Street Community Resource Centre. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Though growing fruit and vegetables might be one way to offset the rising cost of food, that can pose a challenge for those living in the housing development, she said.

“It’s not easy to garden here. There’s not a lot of space and not a lot of access to gardening supplies and materials,” she said.

“We’ve really reduced it to a micro-version, so they get a little box and a little pot and some seeds.” 

Food security has definitely been a top concern for residents in the development in recent months, as inflation makes everything more expensive, Konkin said. 

“Every day, we’re talking to people … that are struggling in some capacity with food, so it’s a very, very prevalent issue,” she said.

“And I’m sort of predicting it’s probably going to get worse.”

The Marlene Street Community Resource Centre is located in the Marlene Street family public housing development in Winnipeg’s St. Vital area. It provides support and services to the housing development’s residents, as well as people in the surrounding area. (Sarah Petz/CBC)

It’s definitely a huge concern for Reid, who says budgeting has become a lot harder. 

“I’m very cautious now when it comes to fruits and vegetables especially. Before it was kinda just, if it goes bad, throw it out,” she said. 

“Now I’m like, if it goes bad we’re still using it, because we can’t afford to throw things out.” 

She said it’s frustrating that junk food is still cheap, yet it’s become harder and harder to afford fruit and vegetables.

“This [is] stuff we need. It’s a survival thing for us.”

Combating food insecurity

Harvest Manitoba also helps people grow their own food, so they have a secure a sustainable food source.

Prior to the pandemic, the food bank network had its own community garden behind its Winnipeg headquarters.

It has also run various programs to give people the supplies and knowledge they need to grow food at home, said Meaghan Erbus, Harvest Manitoba’s senior manager of community food network and advocacy.

“I think there’s often an opportunity for people to supplement their costs. One tomato at Superstore can cost up to $1.50,  whereas a free plant from Harvest could have 20 [tomatoes],” she said. 

Since gardening supplies, ranging from pots to soil to seeds, can be expensive, it’s important to have programs that offer them at no cost, says Harvest Manitoba’s senior manager of community food network and advocacy. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

But gardening supplies can be expensive, which is why events like the one at the Marlene Street Community Resource Centre that make it more affordable are important, Erbus said. 

“Soil is expensive. Space is expensive, depending on where you’re living. The majority of folks that access our services are living in apartments or townhouses, so they have a smaller space to grow in,” she said. 

“So it’s super important for folks like ourselves and other community-minded organizations to be offering things for zero cost … [to] encourage people to be able to do that.”

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