Tim Murphy and Santropol Roulant: Greening and Feeding a Community

In the concrete jungle of Montreal, Tim Murphy works to prove that the city can be green and feed itself

For the last seven years, Tim has been in charge of sustainability and urban agriculture at Santropol Roulant. The headquarters on Roy Street is a beacon of green urban living, and sticks out like a green thumb. The building is literally covered in edible produce, a bounty that cools the building and by extension the neighbourhood, all the while feeding those in need.

Santropol Roulant was founded in 1995 as a Meals On Wheels service. But, it’s grown over the years, developing a youth engagement mandate and a sustainability program.

The organization prepares one hundred meals, five days a week. Most of the food that is packed up and biked out – yes, it’s a bicycle delivery service – is grown by Tim and his enthusiastic team.

“Everybody brings their energy and then at the end of the day, we have some nice meals that we send out to our clients so it’s rewarding every day,” he says.

After stopping by to check in on the kitchen staff to make sure they have all the greens they might need for a chef salad, Tim heads up to the roof to the terrace container garden. It’s filled with pots of organic tomatoes, peppers and other produce, all cared for in a sustainable fashion. “Each one of the containers is attached to the other one and when it rains, it falls off the green house and onto the gutter. It fills the rain barrel and it kind of floods the whole line of containers,” explains Tim.

He says they use a combination of innovation and grandmother’s tricks. “We’ll save eggshells from our kitchen down below and put those in when we plant as a source of calcium. You don’t need to buy the fancy product at the gardening store.”

A flight of stairs up, the roof garden is covered with arable soil a foot deep filled with carrots, lettuces and the like. Tucked away at the very back, a buzz of activity. Santropol’s very own beehive, a fresh source of honey for their clients.

Tim’s team invites the public to get-togethers and workshops to showcase the work they’re doing, and to encourage them to do something similar at home. He feels advocacy is a big part of his job.
It comes naturally to him, since his father worked in the labour movement in his native New Brunswick.

A big concern for Tim and his team right now is protecting the few remaining agricultural lands on the island. Santropol has sublet an acre from a farmer in Senneville. They bring school children, many of whom have never set foot on a farm, out to their plot, to teach them about agriculture. And of course the farm is able to grow bigger vegetables, in bigger quantities, essential to feed its meals on wheels program.

Mme Cadieux appreciates that, for more reasons than the food alone. “When I see these boys or girls that come through with my supper, I’m so glad to see them, so I can speak a little bit. Sometimes if they don’t come, I don’t have any visitors.” The elderly woman is nearly blind and lives alone.

The food is a blessing, but it’s the people from Santropol she looks forward to the most. Tim says sometimes it’s not just about feeding a belly, but rather, a soul. “If food can be that vehicle, to kind of bring those two worlds together, then that’s a great thing.”

Debra Arbec co-anchors CBC News Montreal with Andrew Chang weekdays from 5 – 6:30 pm. Watch for her “Montrealer of the Week” segment Fridays during the 6pm newscast. To see past profiles, visit: www.cbc.ca/montreal

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