Build it and they will come. In a providential way, this has come true for Fred Winegust with the launch of the Reena Community Farm – part of the non-profit agency’s GReena initiative.
It started with a government grant to pilot a project featuring portable outdoor growing containers at two locations in 2021.
“We had a great first year, and we began to see the potential of growing food and employing neurodiverse individuals,” says Winegust, Initiative Leader with GReena.
Now the urban farm has sprouted new opportunities at Reena, which supports more than 1,000 neurodivergent people at 30 Toronto-area residences.
“The GReena initiative is about more than food,” says Bryan Keshen, CEO of Reena. “It is about our efforts at sustainability.”
Additional funding from the Azrieli Foundation helped create a single mega-farm in 2022, where eight students with developmental disabilities worked on the farm, earning fair wages and learning skills such as watering, staking and harvesting. Boxes of tomatoes, zucchini, squash, peppers, parsley, sage and thyme were then shipped to Reena group homes and community residences. Produce was also sold to restaurants and given to a local food bank.
“This success got us thinking of a bigger vision for the farm, something that will operate year-round, not just outside in the warm weather months,” says Winegust.
Funding from the Foundation is doing just that. In 2023, GReena will manage 1,300 growing containers, which supply vegetables to Reena and seven community partners.
“It’s amazing what can happen when someone enables your vision and helps execute it,” says Winegust. “Food is one thing every person has in common. This is beautifully seen in what we’re growing.”