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Pop-up greenhouse at historic downtown firehall grows food for Calgary community fridges

Now in its second year, a downtown Calgary greenhouse run by volunteers is stocking up nearby food fridges — and growing a sense of community. 

The greenhouse sprung up in the courtyard of the historic Fire Hall No.1 on 6th Ave. S.E. last year. The City of Calgary has been looking for a new use for the 1911 building since the car rental company occupying the space chose not to renew its lease. 

The greenhouse is one of the many activations at the firehall — it’s also home to monthly movie nights, low cost grocery markets, night markets and health clinics. 

Alice Lam, event organizer, said one of the goals of the pop-up was to create more green space downtown. 

“We are surrounded by tall high rise buildings, not a ton of greenery,” she said. 

“People typically associate downtown with major events and festivals, but not really as a residential neighborhood, which it is. So we’re just kind of doing our part to make it fun and friendly for kids and also for the seniors who live in this neighborhood.” 

Two women stand in front of a green structure with plants in front.
Gabriella Wong Ken, left, and Alice Lam, right, stand outside the greenhouse in downtown Calgary. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Volunteers are responsible for propagating, transplanting, and taking care of the plants. Once harvested, the veggies are shared with community fridges near downtown — The Hatch in the Rosscarrock neighbourhood and the Calgary Community Fridge on Centre Street. 

Lam said the community fridges are helpful at a time when the price of food has increased. 

“We’ve seen so much more demand on these community fridges and city pantries. And so we’re just kind of doing our part, it’s really cool to be able to show Calgarians that you can really grow veggies anywhere in the city,” she said.

“You just need a tiny bit of space and it can make a big impact.” 

Gabriella Wong Ken, Calgary Community Fridge volunteer, said there is huge demand for fresh fruit and vegetables at the community fridges. 

“That’s something that’s typically out of reach for a lot of low income families or people struggling to make ends meet,” she said. 

She said the greenhouse is growing kale, zucchini, herbs, basil, thyme, radishes, flowers, and bok choy. 

“As we know in the downtown area, we’re close to Chinatown and the Calgary Community Fridge up on Centre Street has a huge population of Chinese seniors and Asian seniors that come to the fridge,” Wong Ken said. 

“So we also are trying to grow some vegetables and some produce that is culturally significant for those groups that visit the fridges.” 

Lam said local organizations donated the cost of the building and the seeds.

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