Maisonnette des Parents : Vegetable Gardens for Everyone

A Montreal organization creates vegetable gardens and offers cooking workshops to encourage children and families to eat vegetables.

Located in the borough of Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie, the Maisonnette des parents offers support and educational services to children up to 14 in the community and their families. In 2017, the Potagers à partager [Sharing vegetable gardens] project was established to encourage healthy eating and introduce people to urban farming. So far, nearly 1,600 children, parents and teachers in the neighbourhood have taken part in a wide variety of activities.

Exploring vegetables, from garden to kitchen

When we visited the Maisonnette des parents, Stéphane Lavoie, who is responsible for food security and urban farming, told us that “for many years now [he has] been exploring all aspects of gardening with the children to familiarize them with vegetables, and teaching them to cook, too.” The children learn about container gardening, planting and transplanting seedlings, tending the plants and harvesting them. They then cook with the vegetables and learn how to preserve them.

This comprehensive food education program provides opportunities to discover gardening, learn cooking skills, get excited about veggies, and learn about composting and food waste.

Vegetable gardens in partnership with schools and communities

The Potagers à partager project was also launched in various schools. As well as creating space for a vegetable garden based on permaculture principles, the teachers planned and held gardening activities with support from project facilitators.

Over 450 students aged 6 to 12 have benefited from the initiative. École La Petite Patrie revamped its existing vegetable garden and created a new one, to the delight of families and school staff. The project facilitators, teachers and parents also used the old containers to create original benches for the front of the school. The back of the garden is being used to grow herbs. Stéphane spoke glowingly of “how proud the children were and how much they enjoyed picking bunches of holy basil and lemon balm and giving them to the teachers running the gardening activities.”

Take a stroll through the neighbourhood and you’ll see the family gardens that were created in 2017 through the Potagers à Partager project. The relationship between the Maisonnette des parents and other organizations means that the whole community can learn to grow vegetables from spring to autumn. For example, the addition of two new vegetable gardens at the De La Mennais and Père Marquette community gardens has enabled eight families to share gardening tips, vegetable recipe ideas and delicious meals. As part of the summer day camp program, the organization offers gardening and cooking activities to 80 children aged 4 to 12.

Nearly 600 children of all ages have learned about all kinds of vegetables and herbs at the community gardens.

Vegetables at the heart of cooking workshops

Since September, budding young gardeners have been playing chef. Stéphane gives cooking classes after school to four groups of students aged 5 and 6, 7 and 8, 9 and 10, and 11 and 12. He also teaches them “how to shop sensibly for groceries.” At the end of the program, the more experienced students will cook a three-course meal for their parents and neighbours in an activity called Restaurant d’un jour [Chefs for a day].

During our visit, 10 kindergarten children had fun tasting vegetables offered by the Maisonnette des parents for their snack—a very popular tradition with the little chefs. The children were certainly intrigued by the day’s recipe: zucchini cake with chocolate chips. They learned how to measure flour, crack eggs, use a mixer, grate zucchini and stir everything up with a spoon, and had such fun doing these delicate tasks just like grown-ups in the organization’s professional kitchen. And what a delight to scrape the bowl with cucumber, carrot and celery sticks!

At the Maisonnette des parents, access to nutritious food through learning about vegetables is a priority. As well as classes for children, the organization has two community cooking groups, serves as a drop-off point for organic vegetable baskets, runs a food bank, hosts a buying club and recovers food from Jean-Talon Market. Locals also have the joy of visiting one of the few urban henhouses in Montreal, located in the backyard.

The Louis Bonduelle Foundation supported this project through its summer 2016 call for proposals.