In Community Design, Permaculture Projects

This article was written by Jessica Kavanaugh

“Building community, growing hope, supporting change” is the mission of the Mustard Seed, a non-profit Calgary organization that works to help the inner city’s less fortunate. The organization provides long and short term housing, meals, clothing and various educational programs and services for their clients.

Recently the Mustard Seed has teamed up with the permaculture community in a unique project to add some colour to the skyline of Calgary with a green roof on one of their downtown buildings. Permaculture is a design system based on ethics and principles which can be used to establish, design, manage and improve all efforts made by individuals and communities towards a sustainable future. The collaboration between the two groups to build the rooftop garden will prove to be a step in the right direction for Calgarians.


The vision of the Rooftop Garden is to create a green space sanctuary in a place surrounded by concrete and the harshness of “the streets”. The Rooftop Garden will be enjoyed by guests living in the Mustard Seed housing and those involved in the Aftercare program as well as staff and volunteers. It will be a multi-purpose space used as a place to build and experience community, learn new skills, and teach about sustainable gardening. Everyone who participates in the garden will have the reward of eating the fruits of their labour!

Tammy Winterfield of the Mustard Seed, Rob Avis of Verge Permaculture , Jacqulynn Mulyk of Burst and Bloom Studio and a few local permaculturists: Rob McWilliam, John Pattison, Julia Mitchell, Jessica Kavanaugh and Sheena Majewski have been working together on the project. The group has been meeting every two weeks over the winter in preparation for the installation in May. The final design will be unveiled at the permablitz. Until then, here is a sample of a few of the elements and challenges used to create the design.

One of the major challenges of this design is the patio’s high exposure to sun and wind, making evaporation a large concern. Water will be collected on site by adding eaves troughs to the roof, then storing the water in rain barrels. Wet pots and global buckets will be used to address evaporation concerns.

Wet pots are an efficient, hassle free watering system. Wet pots are porous terracotta pots that are buried in the soil. Water is gravity fed into the pots, which then slowly releases into the soil. The pots are connected to each other and a rain barrel with pipe or hose. The plants take only as much water as they need when they need it.


Once the system is installed it requires minimal maintenance. The Mustard Seed has organized a collaborative project with Prospect PDD Services which will be running a ceramics course where clients from both organizations will have a chance to make the pots used in the garden. In permaculture, stacking functions is essential. Using wet pots in the garden will stack water conservation, educational programs, community building and a potential source of income for the organization. The Mustard Seed has an underused kiln so making the pots on site just made sense.

Global buckets are another cheap, water efficient system. The bucket system was inspired by two teenage brothers from Boulder, Colorado who have championed the use of locally sourced, free or low cost materials to efficiently grow fruits and vegetables. Two 5 gallon buckets are inserted into one another. The inside bucket has several small holes in the bottom, as well as one larger hole, about the size of a disposable plastic cup. A plastic cup with a hole in the bottom is inserted into the bucket in order to wick water up into the soil.


The plant takes only as much water as it needs and the rest remains in the outer bucket. Global buckets significantly reduce the amount of time and water needed for growing food. While these systems are incredibly effective at growing food they are not the most ascetically pleasing. To create a warm and welcoming atmosphere, knitted covers for the buckets are being made. We are currently looking for volunteers to donate knitted covers.

Producing no waste is an important principle of permaculture, so the garden project will repurpose as much materials as possible out of the city’s waste stream. 1-800-GOT-JUNK has graciously offered access to their transfer store.

Benches, lattice, garden tools, containers, buckets and wood are just some of the items that have been repurposed for the project. The project wouldn’t be possible without the help of local businesses, like 1-800-GOT-JUNK and Sunnyside Natural Market, who support community repair and transformation.

Sunnyside Natural Market located at 338 10 St NW will donate 10% of the total sales on Earth Day April 22 to the Mustard Seed Rooftop Garden project. The staff and owners of Sunnyside Natural Market believe this project exemplifies one of the most important ingredients for empowering people: growing your own food. Sunnyside Natural Market is committed to regenerative local actions which improve nutrition and health for Calgarians and contribute to the building of a resilient local food system.

Donations of materials for the project are also being accepted. Materials still required are: soil, plywood, screws, irrigation pipe, rain barrels and stands, eaves trough and knitting for the global buckets. To donate materials or get involved in the project contact: rob.mustardseedgarden(at)

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