KBI plants pollinator garden with City of Ottawa grant

Kehillat Beth Israel (KBI) is “greening up” its gardens after receiving a 2022 Community Environmental Grant from the City of Ottawa. 

The Shul Greening Committee, dedicated to creating a more environmentally sustainable relationship between the synagogue and the Earth, applied for the grant specifically to create a pollinator garden as an interactive educational space. 

“Within Judaism, there’s a real holistic approach to sustainability … one that understands the interconnection between environmental, economic, and social injustices and our over-consumption,” said project co-organizer Anne Read. “We want to use this outdoor space as a tool for engagement for the Jewish community.”

The committee engaged community member Geoffrey Katz, who is a landscape architect, to design a fully fledged interactive garden space that will eventually expand beyond the pollinator garden. 

“Our eventual goal is to have a food garden, so we can donate to the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank,” said Read. “This pollinator garden is the first step in our larger project.”

KBI held a dig and plant day, both of which had a great turnout. 

“We had about 20 volunteers on all the shifts,” said Anne. “Seniors were involved, little kids … it was a great cross-section. Our hope is to design a space that is barrier-free, completely accessible, so people can really connect with one another in a natural setting.”

The pollinator garden is chock-full of species native to the region. Co-organizer Gillian Koh was responsible for obtaining all the plants. 

“We wanted only native species because our hope is that it will feed our natural pollinators, so they could thrive and our local biodiversity could grow,” said Koh, who reached out to the Ottawa Seed Library, a group called For Our Kids, and a nursery that gave KBI wholesale pricing.

“I also reached out in the community. I knew we had a lot of avid gardeners, so I put out a call to the neighbours to see if they had anything to donate and my neighbours really came through. We spent $300 but everything else was donated from across the city.”

Among the many species planted, the garden is now home to purple coneflowers, bee balm, cardinal flowers, goldenrod, black-eyed susans, smooth blue asters, common and butterfly milkweed, and wild strawberries. 

Both Read and Koh said the dig and plant days were an overwhelmingly positive experience.

“Members came up to us on plant day and thanked us for doing this, saying they’d thought it was a great idea,” added Koh. “People have been asking how they can make something like this happen at home.”

Read said only a fraction of the grant money has been spent so far and the rest will be used for infrastructure for the expanded garden, for things like pathways, benches, and rain barrels. Ultimately, the Greening Committee hopes the pollinator garden and interactive educational space will help bring issues such as climate change to the forefront of the Jewish community. 

“There’s a lot that we can draw on from our traditions to address the climate crisis,” said Read. “As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote ‘there are three ways in which we may relate ourselves to the world - we may exploit it, we may enjoy it, we may accept it in awe.’ Our intention is not only to cultivate a pollinator garden but to nurture a sense of radical awe and respect for our planet."