Shirley Ross: The 2017 UAlberta Advocate

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Since 2011, one person has been instrumental to the success of the University of Alberta's Green & Gold Community Garden - that person is Dr. Shirley Ross, a retired researcher from the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES). During her research career Shirley spent several years working on research projects for non-profit organizations in Africa. Now retired, she volunteers much of her time to manage the Green & Gold Community Garden - a University community garden that raises funds for a women's organization in Africa.

Each winter, Shirley plans the upcoming growing season, determining crop rotations and the layout of over 60 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers to be planted in the two-acre Garden. She oversees planting seeds and caring for seedlings in the University's greenhouse space. As soon as the weather permits Shirley is out at the Garden coordinating over 100 volunteers of all ages, and teaching all about organic farming practices. During the spring, summer and early fall Shirley supervises garden planting, weeding, pest control, soil enrichment and harvesting, as well as the twice weekly public markets where Garden produce is made available to the public to raise funds for the Tubahumurize Association in Rwanda. Shirley liaises with ALES staff and members of other community gardens, sources seed donations, determines equipment needs, gives presentations about the Garden to various groups and interviews to the media, tracks the Garden's finances, and writes grant proposals (the Garden has no income other than funds raised through grants and spring plant sales as all funds from produce sales are sent through the University to Tubahumurize).

In short, Shirley has taken on a full-time, unpaid job. She has done this with grace, unending patience, perseverance and optimism despite the challenges of unpredictable Prairie weather and the short growing season. The two reference letters included in this nomination package further highlight the impact Shirley's selfless commitment to the Garden has had. Her impact is evident in three different but connected communities: the University, the Edmonton community and the women of Rwanda.

The University

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The Garden is a project supported by ALES and the School of Public Health. These faculties and other university groups including Physical Education and Recreation and Residence Services use the Garden for instruction and volunteer opportunities. In addition, many international students volunteer in the Garden. In the words of one of the international student volunteers, "…. volunteering at the garden has brought about many friends (old and young)… Shirley is one of them. I was impressed by the way she treated others … any questions about the plants, growing method, she tried to explain in a simple way that a beginner as me could understand. …everyone comes here not only to volunteer but also to share their life stories that could bring happiness or heal their suffering. That is the glue of sticking every volunteer to work even on a snowy or rainy day. She is also so humble… As a young people, I learn that personality from her."

The Edmonton Community

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The Garden is run entirely by volunteers, teenagers to seniors, from the University and the community. In addition to the volunteer work sessions two to three times per week during the season, the markets on Tuesday evenings and Saturdays provide a unique place for community members to gather. Families from grandparents to grandchildren come to the markets, often walking or on bikes, to buy fresh produce and learn about what can be grown in Edmonton. It is also an opportunity for people to learn about the University's contributions to the local community and to connect with the international community. Thanks to Shirley's extra daytime sessions at the Garden, many different groups, including preschool and elementary students, women's groups, and employees from other organizations, are able to learn about gardening and enjoy the beautiful Garden on the University of Alberta Farm. In 2015, Shirley took on further responsibility by agreeing to manage the adjoining orchard. The orchard is a rare Edmonton public resource of fruit diversity. Last year volunteers learned grafting and pruning and market customers enjoyed the addition of fresh fruit and berries to the usual selection of vegetables, herbs and flowers. This year the Garden will offer educational orchard tours for community members and students.

The Women of Rwanda

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The Garden was started in 2009 (Shirley was a founding volunteer) to raise funds for the Tubahumurize Association, a non-profit organization that supports marginalized women in Rwanda. These women are genocide survivors, victims of domestic violence or trauma and many are living with HIV. Tubahumurize provides counselling to the women and their families in Kigali and in rural Rwanda. The Tubahumurize sewing school trains several classes of students each year. Many graduates have joined a sewing cooperative that makes handicrafts for sale worldwide, including at the Garden's public markets. This year, Tubahumurize will open a second classroom to accommodate more students. Tubahumurize also makes micro-credit loans available, enabling women to start small businesses and support their families. Since it began, the Garden has raised more than $250,000.00 to support these programs. Jeanne Mwiliriza, Founder of the Tubahumurize Association, sent a reference letter to support Shirley's nomination. Recently, Jeanne also wrote that "… our impact on these young women's lives is transformational, not only economically, but on emotional and social levels too." Tubahumurize's achievements would not have been possible without Shirley's tireless work at the Garden. She is truly deserving of the University's UAlberta Advocate Award.

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The Green and Gold Community Garden

The Green & Gold Community Garden is a community garden with a difference. We think of it as a garden with both local and global benefits. The Garden is run by volunteers and is located on the beautiful University of Alberta Farm in the heart of Edmonton. Our produce is grown using organic gardening practices, with no pesticides or herbicides. The Garden is open to the public during twice-weekly markets, when our freshly picked produce is available for a donation based on fair market prices. All of the proceeds go towards supporting the Tubahumurize Association in Rwanda.

Community Connections Awards 2017

You can celebrate Shirley's achievement at the Community Connection Awards!

All are welcome to attend.

Date: Monday, May 15, 2017
Time: Noon - 1 p.m.
Where: City Hall