A gem in the heart of our community, our rooftop garden is a special place for youth and staff to learn, connect and enjoy a city view.

Right now, youth and staff are preparing for planting season at CHT, a time that underscores hope and future possibility. Using soil and plants generously donated by Scotts Canada Ltd. and Bradford Greenhouses Garden Gallery, each of the five raised beds on the full-sun garden will soon be filled with vegetables and herbs.

“I‘m so excited to plant the garden beds with the youth again this year,” says chef instructor Sonya Gammal, who leads our Cooking for Life job readiness program. “Our rooftop garden is a therapeutic space for collaboration and it’s also a great place to learn about gardening and other important life skills. This offers youth a meaningful opportunity to participate in a project from the beginning to the end and enjoy the nutritious benefits of their hard work.”

The full-sun garden is planted and tended to by youth and staff from across CHT and will produce ingredients used in everything from meals prepared by our kitchen for youth in the shelter to recipes created by youth who are learning to live independently or preparing for potential future employment in the food service industry.

The garden is meaningful to youth because so much learning happens there: It’s a perfect place to teach life skills, like the responsibility of caring for something that depends on you to survive, the value of teamwork and consistency.

Growing vegetables like beans and peppers and herbs like basil and chives also teaches youth self-reliance and how to be healthy and budget conscious: If you grow tomatoes, you don’t have to buy them at the store and you can experience the joy and freshness of biting into one fresh off the vine.

Beyond learning valuable skills that help them on their journeys forward, youth also find peace and respite in the calm of the garden – a place that can make them feel anchored as they navigate the challenges of homelessness and trafficking.

“It’s such a positive way to spend time,” says Fred Shayo-Mushi, manager of support services who has been working in the garden with youth since 2013. “Being together gardening doing something tactile is really good for them.”

Sonya loves seeing the “spark” in the eyes of young people who find inspiration and hope when working in the garden. Fred recalls one youth in particular who has returned to visit countless times. “He would say that coming from homelessness, there’s no places on the street where you can garden, but here, he can. I thought that was really meaningful.”