Fundraising for a Community Garden Project

Interview with Susan Brown, Saint Mary Anglican Church

By Janet Epp Master Gardener

Having responded last year to a request to the MMGA for Master Gardener help with a community gardening project at Saint Mary Anglican Church in Charleswood, led by church volunteer Susan Brown, I soon became intrigued by the scope of this impressive project. Susan had won acceptance of her idea from the church and the community and had found funding for the development of, first, a fenced raised-bed garden and then in 2022 the creation of a fruit-forest on church property. How had she achieved this impressive success? I decided to interview her in case some MMGA members are thinking of starting a community gardening project from scratch and would appreciate Susan’s tips.

Janet: What steps did you take to get this project started?

Susan: I spent a lot of time searching online and finally found the Urban Eatin’ Gardeners Worker Coop, a group of landscape architects and designers, creating food-producing systems that are environmentally sensitive, sustainable and organic. They assessed the property and made an itemized plan for creating the raised bed garden for 19 families with a budget of $30,000.00. We ended up getting only $20,000 in grants that first year to get the project started.

Janet: So where did the money come from?

Susan: We received money from several sources including the city of Winnipeg and Kiwanis.

Janet: How did you know where to get the funds from? How did you know what grants were available and how to access them?

Susan: Just online really. Urban Eatin’ Gardeners Worker Co-op was really good about helping out with suggestions of where to find grant money. I just looked up green initiatives and searched. It was about nine years ago and the whole community garden concept was on the cusp of starting so there weren’t a lot of grants available like there are today. Also I had to be careful because of our religious affiliation.

Janet: So once you found organizations with available grants, how did you figure out what you needed to do to be approved for the grant?

Susan: At first the grant process and vocabulary was like Greek to me. It took hours to complete a grant application. And each organization had different requirements. Some of the requirements were financial statements, AGM minutes, a working budget, and letters of support, a lot of hoops to jump through. I completed many grant applications only to have them denied. I was struggling with the city of Winnipeg’s application and contacted my local city counsellor who was very helpful. He told me about a community incentive grant program which unfortunately is in it’s last year now. After submitting the grant application, the City had some requests and once we satisfied them, they approved the grant. So it took a little bit of work. Once they approved the grant, we were able to start doing the work. Things were a bit easier with other grants. Philanthropic organizations like Kiwanis are a bit less troublesome. I made a presentation to them. They voted and then paid out the grant amount for the project. Other grant foundations are RBC Community and Social Impact, TD’s Friends of the Environment, Access Credit Union, Thomas Sill Foundation, Toyota Canada Foundation, Trees Canada, the Winnipeg foundation, and the WRHA’s Healthy Together Now program. There are many more.

Janet: It sounds like a lot of research and effort to find grants that want to fund your particular type of project and then to gather all the information required before submitting the request. Who supplied you with letters of support?

Susan: Because we are a food bank Winnipeg Harvest gave us a letter of support as did the community liaison for WRHA. The gardeners who would be benefitting from the raised beds also gave us letters of support.

Janet: How did you decide what vocabulary the grant organizations required?

Susan: Some of the buzz words that they want to hear right now are food security, sustainability, and accessibility, which all describe raised bed gardening. Don’t be discouraged by a denial. I was turned down by one of them and then a year later I tried again and was approved.

Janet: Is timing important in submitting grant requests?

Susan: Most grants are done annually and sometimes semi-annually so timing is very important. And the funds are valid for one year. This year we did not get our fence up around the fruit forest. It’s possible that we may lose those grant funds. But I’ve contacted the organization that gave us the grant money to let them know when the fence will be completed. And they have agreed with that plan.

The grant application form will indicate it’s opening and closing dates. After the closing date it may take several weeks or even months to get approval. So if you need the money to start your project in April, for example, applying for a grant that closes in April will probably be too late.

Janet: When a grant is approved how quickly do you get the money?

Susan: Some organizations pay upfront and others like the city of Winnipeg may give you 50% upfront and then the balance when the project is completed. So you may need bridge financing. Some will ask when you need the money and pay it out to you at that time. Most won’t pay for any work done prior to the date of funding.

Janet: Do you have any other hints or suggestions for anyone applying for grants for gardening projects?

I’d recommend that you plan your project in stages. That way you don’t have to ask for so much money at the start and if you don’t get all the money you can at least take care of the first phase.

You can apply for grants from different foundations at the same time to make it easier on yourself because most of the questions are going to be very similar. Those keywords are the big impetus right now. You have to give them what they want to hear but then you actually have to deliver it because after your grant is done they will expect a report. There’s almost always a form to fill out after the project is finished. The final report will include a description of what was done with the money you received. Some of them will want receipts. It’s always good to include anecdotal stories.

Photos by: Susan Brown
Published: May 2023