The Our Farm Project

at KW Habilitation
Kitchener / Waterloo, Ontario

A Project SOIL Pilot
and Participatory Action Research (PAR) Case Study

Written by Elena Christy

Download as pdf (3.2 MB)

Study conducted May – November 2014



*       Project goals include social inclusion programming, horticulture therapy, skill building, career development, increased access to fresh, local, and healthy food

*       Fully functional kitchen at main office building allows for food preparation

*       Partnership with community members and Young City Growers for food production

*       Growing at urban micro-farm and rural 10 acre site in Protected Countryside

*       Full-time staff member as Our Farm coordinator critical to success

*       Looking to external funding and sales of produce to KW Hab residences for long-term viability of program



The Our Farm project of KW (Kitchener-Waterloo) Habilitation (KW Hab) is a fascinating story of how community and organizational partners can come together to execute a project that meets both organizational and community needs. KW Hab is a non-profit organization that has worked in Waterloo Region for over 40 years to provide a wide range of individualized services and supports to children and adults with developmental disabilities. Both in-house staff and a contracted community partnership with Young City Growers (YCG) helped grow KW Hab’s Our Farm project for the 2014 growing season. Defining characteristics that make onsite food production a feasible and attractive venture for the organization include 1) KW Hab’s access to a significant amount of land in the Region of Waterloo; 2) KW Hab provides long-term care to numerous individuals who can benefit from increased access to fresh, healthy, and local food; and 3) KW Hab’s Our Farm project provides a new programming opportunity to KW Hab clients that is empowering and therapeutic. Project goals include social inclusion programming, horticulture therapy, skill building, career development, and increased access to fresh, local, and healthy food. One advantage KW Hab has is that they have retained fully functional kitchens at their institution for food preparation in a culture where many institutions have not been able to do the same.

While the Our Farm project is still in its early stages of development, KW Hab has been quick to identify potential short-term and long-term synergies within their organization and the larger community. Synergies within KW Hab include connections with their Community Participation and Employment Supports programming; connection with their café in regards to food preparation and sales; food production for their residential and respite programs; and the potential for social enterprises through catering or seedling sales. Synergies within the larger community include a greater integration in the community through increased volunteer opportunities, connection through sales of produce and preserves, and the increased potential for other collaborations.

As the project is in its first year of implementation, long-term economic viability remains unclear. The greatest expense of operating this project appears to be staff salaries. The first year of a garden/farm project is not representative, since it tends to require a greater amount of economic and human resources than subsequent years—and therefore is insufficient to draw conclusive findings on the long-term economic viability. That being said, the first year generated a lot of interest for the project and many benefits are apparent for moving forward. From this case study it is apparent then when exploring onsite food production it is important to have explicit conversations around project goals (particularly if there is more then one project partner), farming/gardening approaches, aesthetics, and phases of implementation.


KW Hab is a non-profit organization that has worked in Waterloo Region for over 40 years to provide a wide range of individualized services and supports to children and adults with developmental disabilities. KW Hab offers a wide array of programming to improve the quality of life of children and adults with developmental disabilities. Habilitation refers to “the process of supplying a person with the means to develop maximum independence in activities of daily living through training or treatment” (“Habilitation”, 2009). Their programs include community and employment supports; residential programs; weekend respite visits to provide caretakers with a break; and early learning, childcare and family resources. Over 1000 individuals are served through their programming.

Throughout the Waterloo Region KW Hab owns or leases 25 properties. Two of the properties are programming facilities while the remaining 23 are residences for their residential program. In 2011, a community group approached KW Hab about farming the land on their rural residential site. Conversations ensued and a partnership was established. In 2013, the Our Farm project began at the rural residential site with one farm manager and two farmers sharing the workload and informal programming. At that time the project was led by the Our Farm board acting as a separate entity, but in partnership with KW Hab. In the 2014 growing season KW Hab assumed the lead role on Our Farm project and the Our Farm board has remained a project partner in an advisory capacity. For the 2014 growing season KW Hab expanded the land in production to include one of KW Hab’s urban programming sites, created an Our Farm Project Coordinator position, and formalized programming.


KW Hab’s rural residential site is known as the David Fisher Residence (DFR) and is located at 995 Erbsville Road in Waterloo. DFR is located on the northwest edge of Waterloo in the Protected Countryside. It is located in a regional groundwater recharge area, in the environmental sensitive landscape of the Laurel Creek Headwaters and adjacent to a provincially-significant woodland. It is a 10-acre property surrounded by farmland.  The residence is home to 25 permanent residents who require supportive housing. In the 2014 growing season approximately 3520 square feet of the land was used for food production. Monica Blais, one of the farmers from the 2013 growing season, returned for the 2014 growing season in the role of farm manager.


KW Hab’s urban Our Farm project site is known as Adult Developmental Services (ADS) and is located at 115 University Avenue in Waterloo. This location is two kilometers from the urban core of Uptown Waterloo, Conestoga College’s Waterloo Campus, Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo. ADS provides daily full and half-day programming for 49 individuals, as well as a weekend respite program. A large urban vegetable garden was started in the backyard of this location in May of 2014. It is approximately 6750 square feet with 3720 square feet of growing space, with four, six-foot by ten-foot, raised beds, and one, four-foot by ten-foot, raised sensory garden. The urban garden is maintained by Young City Growers (YCG), a grass-roots initiative that seeks to provide urban agriculture opportunities for youth.

The Our Farm project was founded on the mission to connect people with the land, food and people. For the 2014 growing seasons the goals of the program included:

  • Connecting people with the land, food and people
  • Implementing social and inclusive activities
  • Fostering learning, knowledge and skill development through experiential learning
  • Career development for KW Hab’s program participants and YCG Interns
  • Community building and engagement
  • Sustainable agriculture & food production
  • Food distribution to KW Hab’s residences
  • Fostering partnerships: continue the partnership with Our Farm advisory board and bring other partners on board, such as YCG and Project SOIL
  • Gain media exposure through the new project
  • Experiment and explore
  • Manage space and time


The Our Farm project began as a community-driven project initiated by Leanne Baer-Erb, an active community organizer in Waterloo Region. Having always wanted a farm, but not seeing it as a viable option for her family, Baer-Erb got the idea of creating a community farm; a place where she and her kids could go and be outdoors. Baer-Erb explained, “I tried to do volunteering in difference places with my kids and there was never anything that really fit. I thought wouldn’t it be great if there was a place I could go with my kids outdoors and I could be outdoors and the kids could be outdoors.” A piece of property had caught her eye on the outskirts of Waterloo that was in good proximity to town and the universities. Baer-Erb shared her idea of a community farm with people in her community and the idea seemed to resonate.

Community Consultation

In the spring of 2010 Baer-Erb decided to hold a townhall meeting with her contacts to get a sense of the general level of interest. Due to the interest expressed at the first townhall meeting, a second townhall meeting was held with a facilitator to get better idea of what people were looking for in a community farm. The second townhall meeting consisted of 30-40 participants with a range of backgrounds such as chefs, parents, small business owners, local farmers, and professors. From the second townhall meeting a steering committee was appointed and the Our Farm board formed.

Finding Land

Initially, Our Farm attempted to purchase the property that Baer-Erb had identified on the outskirts of Waterloo. By the time their offer on the property was submitted, another offer had already been proposed and their offer was declined. Having lost out on the property, Our Farm decided to shift their focus from buying a property to finding land they could use.  KW Hab’s DFR location was just down the road from the initial property. Our Farm decided to approach KW Hab regarding using the DFR site.

Partnership with KW Habilitation

Shortly after Our Farm had identified the DFR site as a potential location for their community farm, a meeting was arranged with KW Hab’s Executive Director, Ann Bilodeau. Two of the Our Farm board members had previous working relationships with Bilodeau, which helped to form the partnership as some degree of trust had already been established. Baer-Erb explained, “[Ann] had a relationship with both of these people…she respected them, they had a trusting relationship so I think that probably helped in her being open to the idea.”  At the time Our Farm approached KW Hab about using the land at DFR, the land had not been used for approximately ten years, Bilodeau explained. Previously, corn had been grown in the fields. Bilodeau immediately thought it was a great idea and was thrilled that the land was going to be used.

Initial suggestions for the partnership included KW Hab receiving a percentage of the produce from the harvest and allowing the citizens they support to participate on the farm if they were interested. Our Farm engaged lawyers to help draft formal terms of agreement. However, as both Baer-Erb and Bilodeau explained the terms of agreement document was never signed because the project was always evolving.  Bilodeau explained “[d]uring that time we tried to come up with a partnership agreement but we realized that is really not what this needs. We need to give this a life of its own. There is really some potential here of doing things differently.” Today the terms of agreement have become the terms of reference between the Our Farm board—as an advisory committee—and KW Hab.

Gap/Need in KW Habilitation

Over the years, KW Hab has had various staff members express interest in starting a variety of different garden projects. However, due to the demands of staff roles, and the nature of KW Hab’s clients’ needs, past garden projects have been difficult to sustain. While KW Hab recognized the potential benefits a vegetable garden or farm could offer their clientele, they did not have the staff resources to maintain such a project in-house. Bilodeau quickly recognized that the Our Farm board had the expertise, desire, and dedication to see the project into fruition. From interviews with both Bilodeau and Tracy Franks—the director overseeing the Our Farm project—it is apparent that the partnership offered a win-win situation for the parties involved; the Our Farm group would have land to farm and KW Hab’s clientele was welcome to participate.

The timing of the partnership was also ideal, as the Services and Supports to Promote the Social Inclusion of Persons with Development Disabilities Act had just been passed.  This act represented a transformational shift in the programming offered by KW Hab to their clientele. The Our Farm project aligned nicely with the new, more inclusion-focused, person-centred and choice-based programming as outlined in the new legislation. The Our Farm project is a program that can accommodate people with a wide range of capacities such as watering, planting, weeding, harvesting and/or simply observing what is happening in the garden, while being around others, and gaining the therapeutic benefits of being outdoors, Franks explained.

2012 Growing Season

The 2012 growing season was the first year of the partnership. Due to the late start a cover crop of sorghum was planted. The sorghum was followed by a cover crop of oats.

verm2013 Growing Season

For the 2013 growing season Baer-Erb was brought on as a farm manager to manage the farm with the help of two additional farmers. Each farmer was to share one-third of the work. Stipends were paid to each farmer out of a grant the Our Farm board secured, in partnership with KW Hab, through the Cloverleaf Foundation.

In the 2013 growing season a minimal disturbance approach was used to reduce disruption of the soil. The farmers chose not to till the land but raked away the existing vegetation with a wheeled-hoe. Baer-Erb recounts that it became very apparent early on that the vegetables they planted were not growing. Baer-Erb ex-plained, “Things were getting eaten. The beans we tried to grow were getting devastated.” Baer-Erb enrolled in a soil workshop put on by Agriculture Solutions.

Participants were provided a soil test as part of the workshop. Upon testing the soil at the DFR site it was apparent the soil significantly lacked any organic matter and subsequently had very low fertility.

With the evidence provided by the soil test, which confirmed observations, Baer-Erb compiled a presentation for her board. During the 2013 growing season less than 3500 square feet of the available 8-acres was being farmed. These findings implied that if Our Farm wanted to continue with the project, and increase the growing area by any significant scale, there was a substantial amount of restoration work to be done. After presenting this information to the board there seemed to be a general consensus and dedication to continue what they had started and work to improve the site’s soil quality. Vermiculture was selected as a soil amendment to help increase the organic matter. One of DFR’s permanent residents would wander out to the garden occasionally and help spread the vermiculture on the garden.

The vermiculture had a significant impact on the quality of some of the vegetables while having little impact on others. Vegetables that grew in the 2013 growing season included ground cherries, kale, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and broccoli.  While the lettuce looked beautiful it was very bitter and unfortunately all of the tomatoes contracted blight later in the season.

In addition to selling some of the produce back to KW Hab, a relationship had been established between Our Farm and the Beechwood Market. The Beechwood Market is a small community market in the Beechwood neighbourhood of Waterloo. While the unexpected challenges of the 2013 growing season reduced the harvest, some produce was still informally given to KW Hab’s DFR and sold to the Beechwood Market.

The 2013 growing season was also the year the partnership with YCG was established. Fanis Juma-Radstake, the YCG Program Manager, and Baer-Erb were connected through a mutual friend. Juma-Radstake was interested in having the 2013 YCG interns explore other agricultural experiences to complete their community service hours. The DFR site offered YCG interns new opportunities and a different experience than typically found on urban garden plots. The farmer—who would accompany the YCG interns—had a background in ecology and would take the interns for guided walks in the adjacent woods. Baer-Erb noted that this was an excellent learning opportunity for many of the interns as they were new Canadians with limited experience with, and somewhat fearful of, the woods. Baer-Erb continued by noting that this is not something that would be readily be available with an urban plot.

Throughout 2013 Baer-Erb had been discussing with KW Hab the potential of creating an internal position in the organization to co-ordinate the farm. Bilodeau explained “that first year…we started realizing that there could be a real bond between community, between food, and relationships.” Baer-Erb thought that an internal position was key to bringing the pieces together, both helping to coordinator the food distribution to KW Hab and formalize programming for KW Hab’s clientele.

2014 Growing Season

After the 2013 growing season, the Our Farm board reduced their hands-on involvement in the annual production.  The Our Farm board assumed the role as an advisory board for the DFR property and the restoration of the land. KW Hab has taken responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the Our Farm project. In May of 2014, Jenny Weickert was hired as the full-time internal Our Farm project co-ordinator.


Based on the depleted soil conditions at the DFR site, Bilodeau suggested expanding the Our Farm project to their urban ADS location.  Bilodeau explained, “there were problems with the land out a DFR. It needed to be revitalized. I didn’t want to see it end out there. That is when the urban garden piece came into play because YCG does urban [agriculture] and we had that connection. It was like, ok we have 115 University Ave. which has a big backyard and nothing in it. So that is when I transferred the lead to Tracy and said ok let’s take a look at what YCG does.” For the 2014 growing season the Our Farm project expanded to their ADS location with YCG contracted as the lead gardeners for the site.

The DFR plot slightly expanded for the 2014 growing and soil remediation using vermiculture continued. A part-time farm manager, Monica Blais, was brought on to oversee production and engage with KW Hab clientele.


Human Resources

KW Habilitation Staff Involved in the Our Farm Project

Ann Bilodeau, Executive Director

Tracy Franks, Director of Community Participation and Employment Supports

Lorraine Stavenow, Adult Developmental Services Manager

Bilodeau was the initial contact person of the Our Farm board and was essential in forming the partnership and getting the project to where it is today. Bilodeau has a European background and grew-up with a large vegetable garden in her backyard in a very urban residential area in Welland. She recalls, “I remember my dad bringing in the manure and the neighbours getting ticked off because of the smell in this affluent neighbourhood…I had never heard of store-bought anything but that is not the norm in our society but…we are going back to it.” Today Bilodeau has continued the tradition of her childhood and maintains her own vegetable garden and grape house at her cottage.

KW Habilitation Our Farm Staff

Jenny Weickert, Our Farm Project Coordinator, Full-time contract

Monica Blais, DFR Farm Manager, Part-time contract

Jenny Weickert started her role as the Our Farm Project Coordinator on May 5th, 2014. Weickert has worked for KW Hab since 1998. Prior to taking her position as the Our Farm Project Coordinator, Weickert held a position as a Direct Care Professional at Pinnacle Group Home. Weickert grew up on a potato farm in North Waterloo where she helped out on the farm from an early age. In 1983, Weickert completed a certificate program in development services. Prior to joining KW Hab, Weickert worked for the Ministry of Community and Social Services.


In her position as Our Farm Project Coordinator Weickert’s responsibilities include engaging KW Hab’s clientele in the Our Farm project through inclusive activities; working with the farmers to coordinate the two sites in terms of what is grown, maintenance, and provide volunteer and intern support; and engaging the larger KW Hab organization in the project through market days and workshops.


Monica Blais grew-up on a farm in Michigan. She has a background in horticulture and worked for many years as a Registered Massage Therapist.  Blais currently farms numerous urban sites in Waterloo for her household’s personal consumption and has taken courses in horticultural therapy. 

Our Farm Advisory Board

Leanne Baer-Erb, Founding member
Sue Lockett, Founding member
Nina Bailey-Dick, Founding member
Rachel Harder, Founding member
Will Candlish, DFR Manager, KW Hab representative/Non-voting member

The Our Farm advisory board formed in 2011 with seven members.  The board composition included four women in their thirties and forties and three men in their mid-fifties to sixties. Given the age distribution of the board there was real mentoring relationship that existed. Baer-Erb reflected, “it felt like a real mentoring relationship at that point. They were really helping us figure out what is a board and how does a board work.” The Our Farm board members came from a variety of backgrounds including: social planning and operating year-round farmer’s market, midwifery and running a summer camp, farming, fundraising, accounting, pastor and president of Conrad Grebel College, and owner/operator of a funeral home. Coincidentally, all members of the board come from a Mennonite background, with strong links to the local farming community.

The Our Farm board developed the mission and vision for the project and solidified the relationship with KW Hab. Once the relationship with KW Hab was established, Will Candlish—the manager at DFR—joined the Our Farm board as a non-voting member to be a liaison between the board and KW Hab. Due to the natural board succession four of the founding board members remain, while three have moved on.

Young City Growers

Fanis Juma-Radstake, YCG Program Manager and head farmer at ADS

YCG ADS Interns: 4

YCG DFR Volunteers: 6

YCG is a grassroots organization that developed out of the African Community Wellness Initiative’s Multicultural Community Garden Project. One of the goals of the Multicultural Community Garden Project was to promote immigrant youth gardening.  In 2012, YCG began as an advocacy group to connect youth with urban agricultural opportunities with a small grant provided by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. In 2013, YCG received an Ontario Trillium Grant to start a youth urban agriculture internship program with the goals of trying to create more youth employment opportunities and encourage youth participation and engagement. YCG seeks to employ youth with diverse backgrounds while ensuring youth with immigrant experiences are well represented.  One of the goals of YCG is to try and encourage young people to develop connections with each other and the larger community. Juma-Radstake hopes the YCG interns leave the program with increased connections, transferable skills, increased career opportunities, leadership experience, and an appreciation for both the triple bottom line and local food movement.


Juma-Radstake spent her early childhood in Nairobi, Kenya.  Her parents had an urban garden plot in the community where she lived where she we would spend time as her parents tended to the vegetables.

In her youth, Juma-Radstake immigrated to Canada.  Juma-Radstake has a background in psychology and social work where she focused her studies on the experiences of newcomer youth to Ontario. She completed a practicum at the Crime Prevention Council at the Region of Waterloo. Through her work with the Crime Prevention Council she became involved with the African Canadian Association and subsequently the African Community Wellness Initiative. This lead to her assuming the role as coordinator of the multi-cultural community gardens project and exposed to urban gardening in Waterloo Region.

YCG internships are comprised of 100 paid hours and 100 volunteer hours. Juma-Radstake and the four YCG ADS interns were all scheduled to work approximately 10-hours a week. The YCG DFR volunteers volunteered five Wednesday evenings throughout the growing season.

KW Habilitation Programs and Participants involved in the Our Farm Project

Community Participation and Employment Supports

Number of Participants: 3

Three KW Hab clients came to the Our Farm project through KW Hab’s Community Participation and Employment Supports program in a volunteer capacity.  KW Hab’s Community Participation and Employment Supports program provides job readiness training and emphasizes experiential learning. Community Participation and Employment Supports was one of KW Hab’s programs the Our Farm project was promoted. Two of the three participants completed the whole the season.  One was not able to continue due to an injury unrelated to the project. Volunteers through this program volunteered two days a week for 3-hour periods for a total of 6-hours a week.

The Vibe

Number of Participants: 20

Throughout the 2014 growing season four groups of five participants participated in the Our Farm project through KW Hab’s The Vibe program. The Vibe program offers a variety of person-centred and person-directed programming for adults 18 years and older. Each group visited one of the two sites once a week for six weeks.

Youth Exploring Possibilities (YEP)

Number of Participants: 10

YEP is an interactive summer camp for youth with development disabilities ages 16 to 21. Throughout the 2014 growing season a total of 12 YEP participants participated with the Our Farm project on three separate occasions, twice at DFR site and once at ADS site.

Other Volunteers (4)

Other volunteers throughout the growing season included one high school student completing volunteer hours, two volunteers from the Hacienda Market Garden, and one volunteer from the larger community.

Infrastructure Resources

KW Habilitation (KW Hab) is a non-profit organization that provides a wide range of individualized services and supports to children and adults with developmental disabilities. Physical infrastructure that is available to the KW Hab Our Farm project include the following:


Our Farm Physical Infrastructure at the David Fischer Residence


–       A shipping container that acts a shed to store
tools and supplies;

–       A seasonal porta-potty;

–       One water tank;

–       Six picnic tables; and

–       A large parking lot


Our Farm Physical Infrastructure at Adult Developmental Services


–       A shed to store tools and supplies;

–       Two water tanks;

–       A drip irrigation system;

–       A lockable fence;

–       Male and female washrooms;

–       A kitchen area equipped with a sink, a refrigerator, a large counter space, grow lights, and a grow rack;

–       The Our Farm Project Coordinator’s office;

–       Internet;

–       A computer;

–       A printer;

–       A land-line telephone;

–       A board room for meetings;

–       A large parking lot.


Other Physical Infrastructure available to the Our Farm project through KW Hab

–       Large vans that are used to transport KW Hab clientele and YCG volunteers to the DFR site;

–       A certified industrial kitchen for processing and storing produce at KW Hab’s 99 Ottawa Street location; and

–       A computer and email account at each KW Hab residence.


Natural Resources


KW Hab owns/leases 25 properties throughout the Region of Waterloo. At the DFR site there is 8-acres of available farm land for the Our Farm project and the ADS location has 6750 square feet of available land for the large urban vegetable garden. Due the number of other properties KW Hab owns/leases there is great potential for future expansion. At this time the strategy is to devote a second year to ensuring the two sites are reaching their full potential prior to considering further expansion of the project.


The DFR location is on well water. Water from the well was used in the 2014 growing season to water newly planted seedlings and seeds as well as to supplement the rain during dry periods until the plants were well established.

ADS is connected to municipal water. Water used for the 2014 growing season at the ADS location was municipal water. The possibility of engaging in rainwater harvesting off the roof of the shed was discussed early in the 2014 growing season. However, the infrastructure did not exist to engage in rainwater harvesting throughout the 2014 growing season. It was determined that investing in such infrastructure was not economically advantageous for the first growing season, as the long-time viability of the project was not clear. Rainwater harvesting, particularly for the urban ADS site, may be of particular interest for KW Hab in the future — depending on the longevity of the project.


The soil at the DFR site has been heavily depleted due to previous farming practices. In order amend the soil and increase its organic material a vermicomposting system was created. Vermiculture is defined as the controlled growing of worms in a specialty structure (Community Crops, 2014). In the centre of the garden straw bales line each side of a garden row. In between the bales is a mound of compost for the red wiggler worms to help decompose the plant material into worm castings.


At the beginning of the season the land at ADS was covered in a very healthy thriving lawn. One of the greatest difficulties at this site was removing the lawn. Initially the site was tilled. However, the grass re-grew in various beds of the garden and required a lot of maintenance to keep under control. Soil was purchased for the raised beds at the ADS site. Throughout the growing season it became apparent that they soil quality was not consistent throughout the ADS site. Certain crops would thrive in areas other crops would not. In the fall of 2014 soil samples were taken and steps to amend the soil, such as cover crops/green manure, were put in place.

Financial Resources

To date the KW Hab Our Farm project has received two grants. One from the Cloverleaf Foundation for $36,000 and the other from Equitable Life for $10,000. A third grant was applied for in December of 2014 through the Region of Waterloo’s Community Environmental Fund. Funding for the Our Farm Project Coordinator position was carved out of KW Hab’s 2014 budget but currently the position remains unfunded.

Financial returns on the project for the 2014 growing season were seen through sales of produce to staff, sales the Beechwood Market (DFR site only) and through savings on grocery bills to KW Hab residences and programs. All KW Hab residences and programs received produce from the Our Farm project at no cost. Revenue from the sales of produce to staff for the 2014 growing season totaled $980.

marketsignSales to the Beechwood market from produce harvested at the DFR site totaled $132. Some KW Hab residences and programs reported savings in the range of $25-$75 on their weekly grocery bills. In the interview conducted with Weickert she explained that one of the staff running the weekend parent relief program at the ADS location informed her that they were saving up to $50 a week on their grocery bills and thought it was great that they could run out to the garden and grab an onion when they needed it. Due to resource constraints we were unable to track weekly savings of residences food bills, so these numbers are estimates.

An additional $100 in financial returns were seen through sales of left over seedlings and the rental of a small garden plot at the DFR site for $20.

Total tracked financial return was $1232.

For 2015, one idea that KW Hab is exploring is charging the residences for their produce.  This could prove to be a viable option for making the Our Farm project self-sustaining, particularly if there is already funding available for residential food budgets.

Community / Social Resources

One of the strengths of the Our Farm project is the community connections that have been formed.  The project was instigated by a group of community leaders.  While KW Hab is now assuming the majority of the responsibility for the project, the partnerships with both the Our Farm Advisory Board and YCG remain very collaborative. New partnerships that were formed this year include connection with The Working Centre’s Hacienda Market Garden and Steckle Farm. Volunteers from the Hacienda Market Garden spent a couple days volunteering at Our Farm’s ADS location. Early on in the 2014 growing season staff affiliated with Steckle Farm collaborated on the design and implementation of the ADS site and provided time and machinery to help till some of the land at DFR.


Weickert and Blais attended a horticultural therapy conference through the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association in September 2014.  This provided them with more ideas for inclusion activities and different ways of engaging KW Hab clientele.

Preliminary connections have been made with both Woodstock and District Developmental Services (WDDS), and Guelph Community Living, who also engage in both horticulture and food production projects. WDDS have various social enterprises including a catering service and greenhouse, where native trees are grown and sold to area landowners, businesses and community partners at a competitive rate. In addition, WDDS has engaged their clientele in the sorting and distribution of a local CSA called the Oxford Garden Fresh Box. Franks noted that it would be great to check out what they are doing and learn about what their struggles and successes have been.

Policy and program resources

In December 2014, the Our Farm Advisory board applied for the funding from the Region of Waterloo Community Environmental Fund to implement a polyculture food production system at the DFR site. The Community Environmental Fund supports community-based environmental initiatives that seek to protect, promote and enhance the natural features in Waterloo Region.  More information on the Region of Waterloo’s Community Environmental fund can be found here:


Resources Needed to Sustain the Project


Funding for the Our Farm Project Coordinator position and a couple of part-time positions is the main resource needed at this time to sustain the project. Approximately 80% of KW Hab’s funding comes from the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. To fund this program KW Hab is looking at an area of funding that is new to them. Franks noted that “having connections with Project SOIL and with YCG opens up our learning as far as where else we could go [for funding] because again this is not our forté.”

Increased Partnerships

In a couple of the interviews that were conducted for this case study it was expressed that increased partnerships may help to reduce the need/pressure for funding. This could be in the form of donations of items such as seeds or seedlings or donations in the form of skilled labour and expertise. Franks remarked, “Right now we are reliant on Leanne and the Our Farm advisory. Jenny has been fabulous…as far as someone who had been able to bring her own expertise and ideas to the project.”

Strong Volunteer Base

A couple of interviewees commented that a stronger volunteer base of  “people who can do the job” would be helpful to relieve some of the pressure and increase the long-term viability of the project.

Desired Physical Infrastructure

Weickert mentioned that having access to a larger vehicle to transport the produce during peak season would be helpful. The vehicle that was being used to transport the food for market days was not big enough to hold all the produce during the peak season.


Future Community Connections

Christian Horizons (CH) is another developmental services organization in the Region of Waterloo that offers residential services as well as respite care and retreat facilities. CH could be an additional market opportunity to explore. Some of CH’s residents participate in KW Hab’s daytime programming.  These participants expressed interest in the Wednesday markets held at KW Hab’s 99 Ottawa location.  Weickert explained there might be potential to reach out to CH to see if they are at all interested in purchasing some of the Our Farm produce for their residential and respite programs.


Weickert expressed an interest in connecting with Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region.  Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region is a non-profit organization committed to working with families and the com-munity to promote inclusion and serve people with developmental and/or physical disabilities.

Corporate sponsorship or volunteer opportunities might be an area to get further funding and/or human resources to help maintain the gardens and further build relationships and connections for both KW Hab clientele and YCG interns and volunteers.


Health and Safety Considerations

The DFR farm and ADS garden add a whole new element to the health and safety regulations KW Hab currently has in place. Due to the vulnerable population KW Hab supports, extra precautions must be taken. Early in the 2014 growing season a KW Hab client tripped over a garden hose and broke their hip. As a result, a new health and safety procedure was put in place for ADS regarding the use of the garden hose. Other existing health and safety procedures identified by KW Hab relevant to the Our Farm project include ensuring staff and participants are wearing proper footwear and ensuring there is no open standing water.

Volunteer Requirements

Due to the legislation KW Hab falls under, there are quality assurance measures KW Hab must uphold. For instance, due to the vulnerable sector of the population KW Hab supports, volunteers are required to complete police checks and training prior to volunteering with the organization. This limits the ease with which KW Hab can recruit volunteers.

Regulatory Constraints

At this time, the Region of Waterloo has restrictive zoning by-laws in regards to permitting temporary farmer’s markets. This prevents KW Hab from expanding their market by opening it up to the larger community. If they decided that expanding the market was something they were interested in doing, they would most likely be required to join an existing market or hold their market indoors.

Before KW Hab expands distribution of the Our Farm produce beyond their own organization, there are questions of liability related to food contamination that require further investigation.


Many successes were achieved throughout the 2014 growing season. Weickert reflected that the project has been very successful, has received a lot of press, and has exceeded her expectations. Juma-Radstake remarked that “a lot of goals that we didn’t think [would happen] this year have happened this year.”  Project staff attributed much of the success that was achieved in the 2014 growing season to a lot of hard work and the support provided by KW Hab. In the end-of-season meeting Blais commented that she could not believe the amount of support from KW Hab this year. Juma-Radstake added that the support from the agency “makes you want to strive and live up to it”.


Goals achieved throughout the 2014 growing season include:

Food Production

At both the ADS and DFR sites over 2145 pounds of produce (1384 pounds from ADS and 786 pounds from DFR) was harvested with an estimated value of over $4950. These numbers are a conservative estimate, as some produce that was harvested for preserving—such as pickling cucumbers—were not captured in these figures.


In addition, small crops that were not planted for yields—such as radish planted as companions to carrots at the DFR site—were not included in harvest totals, even though they produced a few bunches. Approximately 300 square feet at the DFR site was dedicated to onion and leek seed crops. An additional 300 square feet at the DFR was dedicated to perennial nursery stock such as rhubarb, canes and thyme. Two hundred square feet of the DFR site were planted with flowers such as fragrant marigolds and sunflowers. ADS has 60 square feet dedicated to rhubarb, but as it was the first year and the plant was not yet established, no rhubarb was harvested.

Connecting People with People

Many people who otherwise would not have been connected were brought together through the Our Farm project. Relationships and friendships were developed between KW Hab’s clients, YCG interns, and Blais. Franks observed that there is a rawness to the relationships that form between the YCG interns, other Our Farm volunteers, and the KW Hab clients, that is unique to this program. She continued by explaining that other KW Hab programming tends to lend itself toward more structured relationships.



Implementation of Social Inclusive Activities

Over 35 KW Hab clients were involved in the Our Farm project throughout the 2014 growing season. Social inclusion activities involved supported engagement of KW Hab clients by Blais at the DFR site, YCGers and/or Weickert at the ADS site, and Weickert at Wednesday market days. Activities involved planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, tasting, smelling, observing, and selling the produce. In August 2014 Bernardin, a business that focuses on home canning supplies, donated supplies and lead a two-hour canning workshop at KW Hab’s 99 Ottawa Street location that was attended by KW Hab staff and clients from Community Participation and Employment Supports, The Vibe, Our Farm as well as YCGers.



Fostering Learning, Knowledge and Skill Development through Experiential Learning

The Our Farm project provides opportunities for learning for all who are involved. The 2014 growing season in many ways was an opportunity to experiment and explore the possibilities of the project. KW Hab clients developed skills over time by learning about the different plants and watching the plants grow. Weickert commented, “people who I thought wouldn’t survive, thrived at the farm.” Our Farm offers teachable moments for staff as well in terms of food preparation. Through the Our Farm project staff were exposed to different vegetables they might not otherwise have come across such as purple peppers and kale.


Empowerment of Program Participants

The Our Farm project provides KW Hab clientele and YCG interns with opportunities to be empowered through new roles, leadership opportunities and reconnecting with skills they acquired in their past.  When asked to explain how the Our Farm project has changed the way KW Hab is perceived in the larger community Bilodeau commented “There is no disability in having an outdoor market. No one sees anyone’s disability when they are buying and sharing food.” Franks added “They see the farmer, they see the vendor. Again it is a different role that people are playing.” KW Hab clients bring a great sense of pride to the market days recognizing the plants they planted and grew throughout the growing season.  Franks explained on market day you can hear people saying “I planted those onions” “I grew those onions” she added “and then they sold them.  I mean how cool is that?”


A surprising outcome of the Our Farm project was finding out just how many of KW Hab’s clientele had backgrounds in farming or vegetable gardening.  Franks explained “I was surprised that some of the people that we support have a background [in farming/vegetable gardening] that all of the sudden they are really excited about but we had no idea.” This is also the case for YCG interns. Juma-Radstake explained that through the project, youth are given an opportunity to reconnect with their indigenous knowledge and intrinsic agricultural skills. It is particularly significant for some of the immigrant youth to be given an opportunity to reconnect with their knowledge of food production in a setting where it is valued


Connecting Different Departments of KW Hab

The Our Farm project has been successful at connecting various different departments of KW Hab and has strengthened the organization’s connectedness. Franks explained, “I was pleasantly surprised that people would initiate a nice little email saying ‘last night we cooked up this and this and this and this is what we made’ and they sent pictures. You know, to say ‘look at what we created from what you created and how cool is this’…when we are in a big organization with 500 people bringing staff together on a common ground on something that they might not have connected with was kind of a neat surprise…they were unsolicited, which made it that much more special.”

Connecting KW Hab with the Larger Community

The Our Farm project has helped explain the other services KW Hab provides to their clientele, beyond direct care, to the larger community. The Our Farm program illustrates the community engagement piece of KW Hab, while generating economic returns, and creating opportunities for increased health and well-being, in a way not a lot of programs can. Bilodeau commented that  “The harvest in many many ways was great and it wasn’t just the food…The relationships that have been built are just fabulous. We have more and more interest all the time. I love talking about the project – it makes us look, feel and be part of our community…[it is] just a heck of a lot of good hard work that brings people together and brings relationships together.”


Since a new press release was circulated in May 2014, KW Hab has received positive feedback from the media. This has led to increased interest from students and potential participation from the larger community. Our Farm gives KW Hab the opportunity to invite the public to engage with the organizations. A good example of this is the DFR site’s connection with the Beechwood market. As mentioned above, Beechwood is a seasonal, neighbourhood market, run by Beechwood Park Homes Association.  The market involves all ages in their market days. This has been a great connection for the DFR Our Farm site and KW Hab clients enjoyed dropping off their harvest a few times this past growing season.

In October 2014, the Our Farm Advisory board arranged for Mark Sheppard, leading US permaculturist, to consult on the DFR site in Waterloo and hold a workshop to cover expenses. The workshop was a collaboration between the Our Farm Advisory board, Whiffletree nursery and KW Hab. Attendees for the workshop heard about KW Hab’s Our Farm project while learning about the key concepts of permaculture. Our Farm remains in contact with Whiffletree regarding the design and installation of the DFR site.


Larger Food Movement

Both Bilodeau and Juma-Radstake discussed the importance and success of the Our Farm project as it relates to the larger food movement and the movement toward more sustainable, local food.  Bilodeau connected KW Hab’s interest in engaging in the Our Farm project to the larger food movement and the culture shift that seems to happening right now around food. “I think gardening…is done in a larger capacity then ever before…there is a huge culture shift in people wanting [foods] that don’t have a lot of chemicals on it, know where it came from, know who handled it. I think that that culture shift and the timing of us getting into the Our Farm project coincided or came pretty close” Bilodeau explained. When asked specifically about the successes of the 2014 growing season Juma-Radstake replied that one of the major successes was “[t]hat a mainstream service organization was able to see the value in including urban agriculture as part of the work that they do and was able to see urban agriculture that engages young people as something valuable to the work that they do.”

Next Steps

Winter Our Farm Programming

Our Farm programming has continued throughout the winter months engaging KW Hab clients in activities such as forcing bulbs, dividing plants, making a scarecrow and indoor vermicomposting.  Our Farm winter programming takes place indoors at KW Hab’s ADS location and has been run by an YCG intern, a KW Hab volunteer, and Weickert.

Continued Partnership with YCG

At the end of the 2014 growing season, discussion began in regards to continuing and evolving the relationship between KW Hab and YCG.  KW Hab and YCG are exploring a variety of options as to what their 2015 partnership will look like. One idea that is being explored is the potential for KW Hab to purchase the surplus from YCG’s Northdale site at wholesale prices and sell it at a marked up price to turn a profit.



Market Days

Preparing for market days was a lot of work during the 2014 growing season. Items were all weighed and often pre-packaged. Brainstorming ideas on how to make it easier for the 2015 growing has begun. Weickert is contemplating a bulk system where items would be sold by weight. She noted, it would also be a lot of work to run the bulk system in terms of weighting and recording and would require a second staff person to help.


Social Enterprises

KW Hab has an industrial kitchen and café at their 99 Ottawa Street location that provides them the venue to both prepare and serve food grown at Our Farm.  Some food grown throughout the 2014 growing season was sold at the café such as snow peas with dip and soups throughout the winter. This aspect of the program got off to a slower start due to a holdup in having the industrial kitchen certified.  This may be an area of further expansion for the 2015 growing season.  Franks also mentioned the possibility of starting a catering service, and/or other social enterprise, in the future of the Our Farm project.

Marketing, Communication, and Engagement

For the 2014 growing season there was only one email address per house. One staff member on shift would check email and print hardcopies for other staff members on duty or staff arriving after them. Hardcopies would then be put in a binder. Some information would subsequently get missed. For the 2015 growing season each staff member will have their own work email and it is now the expectation that everyone arrives at work and checks their email. It is the hope that individualized emails will help increase communication throughout the organization.



For the 2015 market days KW Hab would like to make sure they provide their residents with seasonal recipes they can take home. This is to help expand the knowledge of how to prepare certain foods and engage residents in assembling their own recipe book.



Project Overall

KW Hab, YCG and the Our Farm Board all come to the project with different goals, organizational cultures, preferred farming practices and aesthetic. Balancing the diversity of partnerships and expectations, both within each organization, and between organizations, has proven to be a challenge throughout the project. Specific areas of discordance include balancing engagement and learning with production and efficiency; monocropping and economic viability versus polyculture systems and ecology; and differing aesthetics in regards to tidiness and ‘weeds’. It is important to note that areas of divergence can be expected when bringing together various partnerships to achieve a common goal. KW Hab’s Our Farm project may benefit from engaging in a collective impact approach. This is a means of collaboration that emphasizes identifying a common goal; tracking progress in the same way; engaging in mutually reinforcing activities by dividing workload so each is doing what they do best; maintaining continuous communication; and accessing skilled and dedicated resources to support ongoing efforts (Collective Impact Forum, 2014, December).

Part of the discordance may be attributable to the fact that the relationship between KW Hab and YCG had not been formalized until very close to the beginning of the growing season. While YCG had had previous connection with Our Farm it was mediated through Baer-Erb.  Juma-Radstake and Baer-Erb had met a few times over a five-month period prior to deciding to work together and had a good understanding of each other’s goals. Weickert was hired for her position in early May of 2014 which did not provide a lot of time for a relationship to be formed prior to starting the program. To address this issue it was proposed that conversations for the 2015 growing season start earlier. It should be noted, however, that despite this challenge, all partners were in the end pleased with the 2014 season.

Time pressure was also a source of challenge for the project. There seemed to be a significant amount of pressure felt by staff to make the first growing season a success. KW Hab had committed to the Our Farm project for the 2014 growing season. The future of the project was going to be assessed at the end of the 2014 growing season. While understandable on the part of KW Hab, knowing that the future of the program would be based on the outcomes of the 2014 growing season placed a significant about of pressure on project staff.  For a project such as farm or vegetable garden project, with multiple partners, a commitment of three to five years with phases of implementation may reduce stress placed on the project and staff. This may result in the project being developed on a stronger foundation, with better relationships, that will lead to greater outcomes, and increased financial savings, over the life of the project.


DFR Site

Challenges for the 2014 growing season at the DFR site included a lack of volunteer labour and blight that infected the tomato crop. It is difficult to travel to the DFR site without a vehicle. The nearest bus stop to the DFR site is over three kilometers away.  This significantly hinders who is able to volunteer at the DFR Our Farm location. For the 2014 growing season coordinating volunteers took a substantial amount of time with limited results.  Also, in late July/early August the entire crop of tomatoes was infected with blight.


ADS Site

The main challenge for the ADS site was related to it being its first year in production. In early May the majority of the growing area was sod. It was a very demanding year in terms of labour and expenses. Weeding took a considerable amount of time and was intensified by the regrowth of the pre-existing grass. Due to delays of getting the garden established, July production was limited.  During the growing season it became evident that there were significant soil differences on the site. In early fall, soil samples were taken, and plans were made to start improving the soil once results of soil tests were known. Throughout the growing season it was also noted that the raised beds dry out quickly and require frequent watering.

Young City Growers

For YCG it is critical to balance the physical work of growing the garden with skill development, engagement, and relationship building. Balancing these components was difficult in the 2014 growing season due to it being the first growing season at ADS and the physical demands required to put the infrastructure in place. The contract that was negotiated between YCG and KW Hab lacked enough staff hours to fully support YCG interns. The YCG interns could have benefited from more mentoring. At the end–of-season meeting that was held in September 2014 Juma-Radstake commented that this is an area that will require further reflection for the next growing season.

Engaging the Residences

Initially engaging the residences to pick-up the produce from the Our Farm project was challenging. Emails were sent out on Mondays letting the residential staff know what would be available that week.  Residences were able to place orders and pick up orders at KW Hab’s 99 Ottawa Street location. Very few orders were received. For the first three weeks only four of the twenty-three residences picked up the produce that was available to them. To address this issue, directors began to follow-up with residences that were not attending. This quickly resolved the issue and weekly pick-ups began to increase.  On August 20th, when the yields from the two sites had increased, a Wednesday market was started which was held from 1:00pm to 3:30pm for 6-weeks at KW Hab’s 99 Ottawa Street location. The markets were very successful with an average attendance of 16 residences. The greatest attended market had a turnout of 19 residences.

Other challenges involving Our Farm produce to the residences included not having large enough quantities of the popular food items, having produce residential staff was not sure how to prepare/residents do not prefer, and varying food preparation skills of residential staff.

After the market became more widely attended in the 2014 growing season Weickert ended up buying food from other local farmers to make sure there were enough quantities of certain vegetables for the houses. Produce purchased from other local farmers included onions, carrots, beets, cabbage, salad greens/lettuce, green beans, onions, squash and zucchini. Weickert explained “I felt that we were getting people on board and I didn’t want to turn them off it they showed up at 3:00pm and there wasn’t anything left.” Weickert suggested that for the 2015 growing season it would be ideal to focus on growing what the residents want to eat and growing those crops in sufficient quantities.

In order to address the issues associated with growing produce residential staff was not sure how to prepare/residents do not prefer (kale, purple beans and purple peppers), and varying food preparation skills of residential staff, a binder of recipes was created to help staff get an idea of what they could make. Suggestions to address these issues proposed at an end of season meeting in September included food preparation training for residential staff as well as the potential to focus more on creating more prepared foods to alleviate some of the pressure from residential staff.  Prepared foods could include both canned or frozen food items such as salsas, jams, tomato sauce and soups.


Other Challenges

At the end-of-season meeting held in September 2014 it was acknowledged that seasonal variance really affects production. Throughout the 2014 growing season Waterloo Region received a significant amount of rain and evenings cooled off in late July. Cool weather vegetables thrived throughout the season and there appeared to be an increase in fungal diseases.


The KW Hab Our Farm Project is relevant to other projects as a pilot site/demonstration. While the project is still in its infancy there are many successes that have been achieved and benefits that have been realized. Franks identified that there are many benefits to the project – benefits of being outside, benefits of social connection, benefits of eating local and healthy food – and being able to demonstrate those benefits to other communities is valuable. She explained, “It is not a unique situation here. It is something that could be easily duplicated in a lot of other communities.”
Weickert has been contacted an organization who wished to come and visit the Our Farm project as they are contemplating a similar project at their institution. Juma-Radstake commented, “I think that KW Hab resembles a lot of organizations that do social service and human development. There is an opportunity to demonstrate how food and urban agriculture can fit into your other mandates even if you aren’t a food growing organization. I think it is an opportunity for demonstration of what works and what doesn’t.”



Online Resources


KW Habilitation Our Farm Webpage: http://www.kwhab.ca/services/community-placement-program/our-farm/

Young City Growers: http://youngcitygrowers.org

Beechwood Market: http://www.bpha.ca/market/


KW Habilitation Joins Local Food Movement, June 10, 2014, Exchange Magazine:  http://www.exchangemagazine.com/morningpost/2014/week23/Tuesday/14061007.htm

Micro farm will provide food, activities for KW Habilitation residents, June 11, 2014, The Record: http://www.therecord.com/news-story/4570113-micro-farm-will-provide-food-activities-for-kw-habilitation-residents/

Good things grow on micro-farm, June 17, 2014, The Record: http://www.therecord.com/opinion-story/4582018-good-things-grow-on-micro-farm/

KW Habilitation Join Local Food Movement, June 19, 2013, The Bridge: http://www.flippubs.com/publication/?i=214286


Collective Impact Forum. (2014, December). Tackling complex social problems through collective impact. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from:  http://collectiveimpactforum.org/resources/tackling-complex-social-problems-through-collective-impact

Community Crops. (2014). Crops Vermiculture project. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from http://www.communitycrops.org/education/vermiculture

habilitation. (n.d.) Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. (2009). Retrieved January 10, 2015 from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/habilitation