Our neighbours

Catherine Dowdell eagerly waiting for spring and the planting of flowers! Photo by Bonnie Weppler

“I have met the bulk of my neighbours because of my gardens,” Catherine Dowdell says. “People stop and look and talk.”

If you have come past Dowdell’s house on Main Street near the corner of Harvey Street, you may have stopped and looked and talked, too. It is impossible to miss the bright morning glories winding their way up the hydro poles or the huge-faced sunflowers almost bending over on the sidewalk.

Dowdell has lived in Old Ottawa East for about seven years and she loves it.

“It really feels like a community,” she says. “There are lots of community events and you recognize people you see regularly. People here are approachable. You can stop and talk. You can also walk or bicycle everywhere you need to go.”

In early 2007, Dowdell was involved in setting up Old Ottawa East’s first community garden, behind Saint Paul University. She has used organic practices for years.

“I have invested a lot of money filling my gardens with soil,” she says. “Last year was hard, because of the drought, but I resisted from using unnecessary water. As a result, my squash was fantastic, but not my carrots.”

Dowdell no longer has a plot in the community garden, but each year as her knowledge and experience expand, so does the plot in her backyard.

Dowdell not only gardens for pleasure but also as a career. She recently started a new position at Operation Come Home, an agency that works with street-involved youth.

Their latest social enterprise, FarmWorks, was developed in collaboration with Just Food, the locally-based food-growing-and-distribution social program.

Farm Works will provide paid training for youth as they immerse themselves in hands-on workshops and experiential learning for a 12-week period on a one-acre plot at Just Food’s Blackburn Hamlet farm.

In a safe space, participants will develop a variety of skills while learning about food, farming and agriculture.

The first group is scheduled to begin training at the end of March. This group will then provide peer mentoring and training to the second group that will begin training six weeks later.

Dowdell beams as she talks about FarmWorks. She is thrilled to share her knowledge and experience to help youth learn different ways to manage their lives and to deal with difficult situationswhile they gain skills that could lead to employment in landscaping, horticulture or in a food-based position in the hospitality industry.

She gets excited when she witnesses their enthusiasmabout heirloom vegetables and maintaining biodiversity.

The non-certified organic produce grown by these youth will be harvested and sold as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) member shares. This part of the programme provides participants with business and customer service skills and will provide funding for the progam’s third year.

With a pre-investment, the program offers the opportunity for residents of Old Ottawa East to support a worthwhile undertaking and enjoy a weekly supply of garden-fresh produce, such as fresh beans, snap peas, herbs, purple carrots, cucumbers, parsnips, leeks, rapini and kale, for 18 weeks, beginning mid-June.

Dowdell spent the winter looking at seed catalogues and planning.

She is delighted with the recent warmer temperatures, highlighting the promise of spring.

“It’s a joy to see people come out again, to see their faces again,” she says.

For more information about CSA membership or the FarmWorks program, contact Dowdell at FarmWorks@operationcomehome.ca or 613-230-4663.

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