Green & Gold Community Garden loses one of its founders and longtime volunteers

Shirley Ross helped start the two-acre garden, located on the U of A Farm, which yields organic vegetables and herbs that are sold by volunteers on a by-donation basis. 

Shirley Ross helped start the U of A garden more than a decade ago

Shirley Ross and Tubahumurize founder Jeanne Mwiliriza hold a panel recognizing donations from the Green & Gold Community Garden, which Ross helped start. (Submitted by Leigh-Ann Topfer)

Volunteers who tend to the University of Alberta's Green & Gold Community Garden are mourning the loss of one of the garden's founders.

Shirley Ross, who died on Sept. 3, helped establish the garden in 2009.

The two-acre garden, located on the U of A Farm near the school's south campus, yields organic vegetables and herbs that are sold by volunteers twice a week on a by-donation basis. 

All proceeds support the Tubahumurize Association, a non-profit organization in Rwanda that helps marginalized women, including survivors of violence. 

The garden's sales of produce along with goods made by Rwandan women has raised $40,000 or more in each of the last five years, and more than $380,000 in total

Ross was instrumental in keeping the plot thriving, volunteer Jennifer Rees told CBC's Radio Active on Tuesday. 

Shirley Ross at work in the Green & Gold Community Garden. (Submitted by Leigh-Ann Topfer)

Though it was known that Ross had been battling cancer, her death was a shock to volunteers.

"I'm sure we'll be saying our goodbyes forever but we also really feel her here in the garden," Rees said.

For years, volunteers counted on the quiet leader who helped plan the garden every February. 

Ross, a retired crop scientist who earned her PhD in agriculture from the University of Alberta, was the go-to source for answers about where and when certain vegetables should be planted.

In 2017, she was honoured with the UAlberta Advocate Award — an award recognizing people who contribute to the school but do not attend or work there — for her contributions to the garden.

"For me, volunteering in the garden is a fortunate matching of my interests with an opportunity that is very rewarding," she told Folio, a university online publication, in 2017.

"I love seeing things grow. You plant some seeds and it's magic."

Garden volunteers, university community members and family are planning a memorial for Ross on Saturday.

Tubahumurize founder Jeanne Mwiliriza will be sitting vigil in Rwanda along with women who have benefited from the garden's financial support.

Another informal memorial event for volunteers is planned for next month.

Jennifer Rees volunteers at the Green & Gold Community Garden during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kashmala Fida)

Ross's death comes during a difficult season for the community garden due to the COVID-19 pandemic and bad weather.

Volunteer Maureen Metz said organizers delayed the start of the season to keep people safe and rain affected the garden's potato and cucumber crops.

"We hope that we can just get back out here, gather our community together again and have a year that Shirley would be proud of," said Metz.

With files from Kashmala Fida


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