Meals on bicycle wheels
Santropol Roulant partners with McGill to provide needy Montrealers with fresh produce
By Dan Moczula
“It’s hard to sum-up exactly” laughs Noemie Desbiuens-Riendeau when asked to summarize what Santropol Roulant, an urban agriculture group in Montreal, does. Since its establishment 18 years ago as a meals-on-wheels service, Santropol has grown into a new experiment in urban farming and community building.
Santropol Roulant’s headquarters in the Plateau consists of offices, an expansive kitchen – and a bike shop. “We do our deliveries through bicycle to reduce our ecological footprint,” says Desbiuens-Riendeau. Santropol’s meals are delivered to seniors and other people with reduced mobility and autonomy.
The meals are made with vegetables grown in gardens across the city. Santropol delivers around 100 meals a day, five days a week. ‘Generally we cook 30-40 types of meals a month’ says Desbiuens-Riendeau highlighting Santropol’s variety of choice.
Six years ago Santropol partnered with the McGill’s Minimum Cost Housing Group (MCHG), a research program in the School of Architecture, to use part of the downtown campus as a garden. This partnership was a resounding success, establishing the Edible Campus garden that has literally grown to the point where some 250 containers around Burnside Hall produce one ton of produce a year. On top of providing fresh produce to Montrealers in need, the garden creates an oasis of green that softens Burnside’s imposing 13 floors of concrete.
Santropol relies heavily on volunteers – and that has forged another strong link to McGill. “We have as many as 25 volunteers per day, many from McGill,” says Desbiuens-Riendeau.
Volunteers from McGill help Santropol fulfill its mandate to ‘break social and economic isolation between generations and cultures.’ But it’s a two-way experience, with many of the volunteers having been impacted by their interactions as much as they have had an impact on others. Eli Kaufman, U2 Arts and Science, recalls the people he met during his bicycle deliveries. “It helped bridge a generational and social gap,” he said. “I met a lot of people who I wouldn’t have come in contact with. I talked to this one woman for thirty minutes and mailed her a letter after.”
Santropol is constantly partnering with McGill. Santropol’s 2nd Annual Iron Chef Competition will be held on Thursday, Sept. 12 at 5 p.m. on the terrace outside Burnside Hall. The public is welcome to watch as chefs from Montreal’s leading vegetarian restaurants such as Green Panther, Crudessence, and Rumi will compete using produce from the Edible Campus garden. (Go to the Iron Chef facebook page for more information).
Santropol is also partnering with McGill’s Community Engagement Day (CED). On Friday Oct. 4, the first day of CED’s two-day event, Santropol will be offering a tour of its facilities as well as animating several activities on urban agriculture.
For more information about CED go to their webpage. CED activity registration will begin on Sept. 17.