McGill alumnus Lauren Pochereva’s passion for urban agriculture stems from her love of gardening, which she picked up as a hobby while studying Buddhism as a World Religions undergraduate student at McGill four years ago. In her classes, Pochereva learned about Japanese esoteric thought and the relationship between people and the environment, leading her to question global environmental issues.
“I started getting really interested in food and saw food and food systems [as a way to] create positive change on so many levels,” Pochereva said.
After returning to McGill to pursue a Diploma in Environment, she has ushered in a new era of urban agriculture in Montreal, and helped to revolutionize education and community-based learning through her efforts with Action Communiterre, a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) located in the Notre-Dame-de-Grace (NDG) community of Montreal.
In 2012, Pochereva was named an inaugural Pathy Family Foundation Community Leadership Fellow which involves a grant of $20,000 to bring about sustainable social change in a community of her choice. As a member of Action Communiterre, she took advantage of the resources that the NGO offered to contact a number of schools in NDG, with the goal of creating a partnership project based on urban agriculture and gardening. The first school she contacted was St. Monica’s Elementary School and Pochereva quickly realized that they were a perfect fit because of how well their goals aligned.
Pochereva committed herself to establishing an urban garden program at St. Monica’s by working with the daycare and afterschool programs five days a week for eight months to give rise to the St. Monica School Garden Project.
The garden aims to give students the chance to establish a relationship with their food system through many different mediums, including non-competitive physical activity, nutritional education, and increased access to fresh produce. Pochereva also hosts sessions on the weekends that allow parents and neighbours to partake in the maintenance of the garden.
Beyond its role as a source for fresh fruits and vegetables, Pochereva intends for the garden to serve as a teaching resource.
“My goal is for more teachers to take their students [to the garden] and do lessons that incorporate the garden or environmental learning,” she said. “One of the things that I’m developing now at Action Communiterre is developing those resources, making them available to teachers, and presenting alternative ways of viewing a classroom—it doesn’t have to be sitting at a desk inside.”
Pochereva has high hopes for the garden to serve as a hub for community discussion on wider issues related to the food system.
“Society has made a lot of food available for really cheap, but it’s not healthy,” she said. “Childhood obesity, depression and cardiac disease, diabetes…it’s all interlinked. For me, a garden is a concrete way to provide more access to fresh fruits and vegetables, to teach kids about healthier eating, and to make those links about how we cook, prepare, and grow healthy food.”
In recent years, McGill has seen an eruption of organizations dedicated to the promotion of urban agriculture, led by both students and staff. On-campus initiatives include Campus Crops and Edible Campus—a joint endeavour of the School of Architecture’s Minimum Cost Housing Group, and non-profit organization Santropol Roulant. Pochereva encouraged members of the community to look into and research the issues her program targets on their own.
“I think a lot of people might be sceptical about urban agriculture or sustainable agriculture and this whole organic movement,” Pochereva said. “For sure there are some things to be sceptical about, but I think that it really comes down to assessing what your values are. Our future and our present are immediately linked to environmental problems. It’s everyone’s problem and it’s everyone’s concern.”