Blog Post #12:  - Michelle Ortega's dream of a community garden got support from Working 4 Change, a project of the Social Innovation Fund

Growing Community

Urban garden project helps woman put down roots

On a sunny day in early May, in a secluded corner of the Prince Charles School property, Michelle Ortega was getting to work.


Armed with a small rake with a bright green handle, she set about cleaning up leaves and trash, tidying up in preparation for a creative gardening project she hopes will transform the neglected space below Union Street into a green urban oasis.


“It will just make my village even stronger,” she says.


That sense of strength and of connection is vital to Michelle.


“I’m trying to create the life I need to feel well.”


In the fall, Michelle brought the idea to Working 4 Change: Learn and Go. An initiative of the Saint John Women’s Empowerment Network, a non-profit that helps to improve the lives of low-income women, Working 4 Change supports people in making change in their communities through local projects.


“It teaches you to have the confidence and follow-through to make things work,” Michelle, 39, says. “I got over my anxiety. I learned to build partnerships in the community.”


The program is one of eight projects of the Social Innovation Fund managed by Living SJ. This investment by the Province of New Brunswick of $10 million over five years supports new approaches to combating generational poverty in Saint John.


Through Working 4 Change, Michelle met Lisa Morris, a neighbour and former mentor with the program who has since become a friend and collaborator. They call their garden project Roots and Wings. While Michelle is focused on the area in front of the school, Lisa is trying to get a pallet garden going in the field behind the school.


In both sites, the aim is to give residents access to gardens, workshops about growing and food sustainability, but also cultivate a sense of well-being.


“A lot of us are struggling in different ways in a system that doesn’t support us, that doesn’t support mental health” Michelle says. “I don’t want to be a slave to the system. I want to be a free woman. I want to build something.”

“It teaches you to have the confidence and follow-through to make things work." 

- Michelle Ortega

“You know what self-care is to me? Community care.” - Michelle Ortega

Clean-up, repairs underway

Michelle's eyes sparkle as she describes her vision: climbing vines on the chain-link fence; container gardens bursting with veggies, community dinners in the space.


The first order of business is clean-up and repairs. From there, she hopes to get donations of containers and supplies to get growing.


“You know what self-care is to me?” Michelle says. “Community care. I need a space where I can go and grow something. I can’t afford to go to the spa. All I need is to grow lettuce.”

Roots & Wings Garden Project is seeking donations of gardening supplies, including large planters, tools, soil and more. To inquire about making a donation, email or call 643-8056.