Meet GROWcery: ProSafe’s Partner That Grows Our Communities, One Garden At A Time

Meet GROWcery: ProSafe’s Partner That Grows Our Communities, One Garden At A Time

GROWcery Food Network Society is one of ProSafe’s newest partners, and we are ecstatic to spread their message of communal spirit. They are an up-and-coming non-profit organization that promotes growing food and proper nutrition. One of its programs provides participants with employment-based skills training by engaging them in the construction and operation of community gardens.

Participants within GROWcery’s Job Creation Program (funded by the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction) learn the fundamentals of carpentry, gardening, and horticulture while simultaneously acquiring certifications including Occupational First Aid and heavy equipment training. All of these skills are currently being put to good use as their team constructs a therapeutic garden in New Westminster.

GROWcery’s team hard at work.

We were fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Jeremy Dyson, GROWcery’s Program Manager. With years of non-profit experience under his belt and a penchant for the outdoors, his commitment to helping people build careers and promoting locally grown produce is a force to be reckoned with.

This is what Jeremy had to say:

What is GROWcery Food Network Society all About?

Growcery Food Network Society is a non-profit organization seeking to empower individuals and help society make educated choices regarding what they grow and eat. We are composed of a board and a programs manager in the office, and an experienced gardener and carpenter in the field.

Although we are relatively small at this stage, we offer a reasonable breadth of programming. GROWcery currently operates a Job Creation Partnership funded by the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. Through this project, we provide six individuals the opportunity to acquire skills and experiences to help them find jobs at the end of the program.

To reach that goal, we are building a community garden within the City of New Westminster. As this project proceeds our participants learn carpentry, landscaping, and gardening skills. This is where ProSafe steps in – we partner with you guys to enhance the variety of job-ready skills and increase the employability of our participants.

Taken together, the experiences and skills training help develop personal and professional growth opportunities for our candidates.

What inspired you to join GROWcery?

It all started when I was working on another job creation partnership with a different organization. I was working on something entirely different from a community garden – this one had a strong legacy component, which is central to job creation projects. The team were constructing First Nations racing canoes in a work project – the idea was to work on something fun, increase capacity in local racing clubs, bring attention to Indigenous traditions, and reinvigorate the sport of paddling.

When COVID-19 hit I decided that I wanted to participate in food security initiatives and programs. This line of thinking led me to the idea of building gardens and educational initiatives, and opened my eyes to how they could serve as learning opportunities for the community. I joined GROWcery Food Network Society to head in that direction.

Carpentry skill development is one of the New Westminster project’s key components.

What other projects is your team working on?

In addition to the community garden, we also received a Work Experience Opportunities grant from the Province of B.C. through the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. This grant is aimed at providing people with disabilities and those who face multiple barriers to employment with meaningful work experiences. For this project, we are hiring five individuals from New Westminster on 12-week work assignments that will be correlated with our community garden initiatives. Participants will receive training for groundskeeper positions – in this way they acquire new skills and work experience while also supporting the garden creation and maintenance initiatives.

Mason bees are super-pollinators that thrive in specific conditions – the same conditions that GROWcery aims to facilitate.

We are also embarking on a pollinator program that centers on mason bees. They are native bees that don’t produce honey. Instead, they are super pollinators that can help flowers and plants flourish. While that is obviously a massive benefit for any garden, the bees are tricky to look after and do require a certain amount of support. Right now, we are building specialized mason bee homes in four different locations across the lower mainland.

We are also collaborating with the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association on a series of videos that we’ll be sharing online focusing on practical things such as 3-bin composting all the way to forest bathing.

What sort of skills can candidates expect to learn? How do they join?

WorkBC is our interface for the job creation partnership and we do our recruiting with them. WorkBC qualifies candidates who meet the criteria for the program and sends them our way. In addition, we do a recruitment drive to find candidates and send them to WorkBC, if we feel there is a good fit. This is done through online marketing channels: social media, job sites, you name it.

We can offer candidates a chance to retrain, a weekly stipend, and an opportunity to work on some really awesome projects.

Something that sets us apart is our holistic approach. Our lead gardener is a horticultural therapist – someone who utilizes gardens and growing spaces for therapeutic purposes. She also works on, and is an advocate for, the reduction of stress through acts of gardening. This is a mindful and peaceful approach that also emphasizes how skills acquired in the program can be used in other aspects of the participants’ lives.

There is a daily morning mindfulness activity that helps people gauge their stress level and mentally prepare for the day. This sets us apart from traditional work environments – we try to take a more holistic approach to learning, training, and moving forward.Our veteran instructor, David, teaches the cohort proper respirator fitting and usage.

Our veteran instructor, teaches the cohort proper respirator fitting and usage.

What has been your proudest achievement so far?

I would say that we are fifty percent through building the Ryall Park Learning Garden (located in the Queensborough area of New Westminster) right now. We have completed a large volume of high value ProSafe training courses as well. The most rigorous of these was the Occupational First Aid Level 2 program. This one is forty hours in length and gets quite intense. Some of the candidates were a little concerned about passing, so it was really amazing to see them all pass with flying colours.

One thing that was very cool to witness was ProSafe integrating skid steer training with a landscaping activity. After that training was all wrapped up, we also completed a significant upgrade to our site through moving and grading with 60 yards of gravel. From a learning perspective it was impactful to have our instructor (Tan – a truly amazing guy) teaching and demonstrating best practices in skid steer operation. Afterwards, all of our participants had a clear sense of pride in their contribution to the job site, which is always so rewarding to see.

During skid steer training, high-vis is a must.

How does one get involved with GROWcery Food Network Society?

Although there have been some limitations due to COVID-19, as we continue to expand there are going to be more opportunities for people to volunteer. For those who are interested, there’s a link on our website to contact us. I respond to every inquiry and use the opportunity to connect and determine if there is current or future potential.

What does this partnership mean to GROWcery Food Network Society?

We love working with Prosafe because they can supply the majority of our specialized training certifications and are very efficient at scheduling and delivery.

We’ve really appreciated moving some of the theory courses to Zoom meetings to reduce physical gathering whenever possible. Additionally, by providing in-kind contributions to our projects, we get a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that Prosafe also believes in what we are doing enough to be a partner and provide additional community support. It’s through all these partnerships that make our organization stronger and more viable and we are deeply appreciative.

Boom lift training is both engaging and exciting.