Aug 14

When making chili for 1000, every herb counts: The DI and Downtown Calgary Community Garden

by Johanna Schwartz · 1 comment

A walk through Downtown Calgary on any given summer day is an excellent reminder of how well we do green spaces. In a densely-built downtown, surrounded by skyscrapers, there are countless oases of both city-designated parks (here’s a comprehensive list) as well as smaller green spaces that beckon to you. “Hey, sit down, and just stop, look and listen for a moment,” the grass says.

And we are also good (and getting better!) at marrying the concrete of the city with the greenery of nature. Even where there are limited expanses of grass, planters spill flowers over their sides, and benches run the outer edges of larger, above-ground planters, also usually filled with bright pops of color from flowers.

It is in one of these larger above-ground plots, on the wide expanse of 3rd Street SW between 5 and 6 Ave, that Calgary Downtown Association and the Drop-In Centre now grows a community garden. This partnership, which also involves little tykes from the many downtown day care centers, allows residents of the Drop-In Centre to use their skills in carpentry and gardening to nurture crops that will later be used in the Drop-In Centre kitchens.

The garden currently grows green onions, tomato, green beans, lettuce and peas, as well as dill, basil, thyme, sage, parsley, cilantro and oregano.

DI Chef Glen Pereira is tasked with taking these harvested herbs and veggies and using them in the DI kitchen. Chef Periera and his very small staff team (plus many helpful volunteers) feed 1,000 plated meals, three times a day, plus two snacks, seven days a week out of the DI’s kitchen.

And while the harvest from the community garden isn’t large enough to provide, say, enough peas for a 1,000 side dishes, it contributes in other significant ways.

Chef Pereira, who uses the herbs in almost all of the meals, says the garden grows more than herbs and vegetables: it grows awareness.

He hopes the garden “rallies [Calgarians] to fight this big problem called homelessness.”

Pereira has had an eye-opening experience working at the Drop-In Centre. When the Drop-In Centre bought the Quality Inn on Edmonton Trail in 2012, he was working in the hotel, and was offered a position at the Centre. Working at the Drop-In Centre has challenged his “misconceptions about social assistance programs.”

Chef Pereira speaks fondly of the volunteers, like “master gardener” Caroline Giles, who puts hours of her personal time into maintaining the gardens, as well as the many skilled tradesmen who are currently residents of the Centre, and are eager to share their skills building frames and boxes to contain the plants.

Like so many small potatoes, the Community Garden’s impact is collective. It provides outdoor engagement opportunities for the DI residents and the downtown day care kids (who work together so well, little ones being by nature wholly nonjudgmental about the current situations of the DI clients). It provides a visual reminder of the need to address homelessness, poverty and food equality. And it gives all Calgarians who pass it a welcome respite from the concrete jungle.

Chef Pereira shares one of his most popular recipes, ideal for your next tailgate party for 1,000.

Drop In Centre Hearty Beef Chili
Serves 1000

100 kgs Ground Beef
12 Cans 3.8l Diced tomatoes
12 cans 3.8l Crushed tomatoes
2 cans 3.8l tomato paste
1 case 25lbs Green peppers
1 case 50 lbs onions yellow
12 cans 3.8l kidney beans
10 tbsp chili powder
5 tbsp Cumin powder
5 tbsp Corriander powder
5 tbsp Black powder
20 tbsp Minced garlic fresh
20 tbsp Seasoning salt
Garden herbs as available


In a tilt skillet saute the ground beef till cooked and then drain out the excess fat.

In a steam kettle heat oil and saute the garlic, onions, green peppers till tender then add the spices to it and finally add the tomato products and cook till the sauce comes together about 45 minutes.

Finally add the ground beef to this sauce along with the kidney beans and cook for another hour. Serve with a creamy coleslaw and fresh bun.

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