When I arrived, Loretta was double digging two new flowerbeds. “THERE you are,” she said as if she’d expected me hours ago. “Come here; I have to show you something!” In the garage, a pair of robins were building a nest in the rafters. When you’re part of a community garden, there are always opportunities to get more than you came for.
Community gardens are springing up across the country as people rediscover the rewards of being part of a group brought together to be active and enjoy gardening. Edmonton has 30 of these gardens, but only one EcoGarden, a community garden with a few differences. The EcoGarden offers community members an opportunity to access locally grown food and flowers, to create neighborhood beauty, and to gain knowledge and experience in horticulture, business practices, life skills, nutrition, and ecological practices. We do this through teaching soil stewardship, biointensive methods a la John Jeavons, environmental awareness, food storage and preserving, seed saving, local economy, and the nutrient cycle.
Matthew, a new gardener, calls me over to look at his soil. “There are no worms! In my culture, a farmer does not plant where there are no worms…” I assure him that the ground is good but is compacted, and through double digging and soil building, we’ll bring this land back to health. I join him and the time passes quickly; we discuss African food crops and cheer the appearance of every worm.
The time I spend helping gardeners with their tasks is the most rewarding part of my day. I look for opportunities to make the garden an outdoor classroom, but end up learning more than I teach, one benefit of being part of a dynamic community (I’ve had great conversations with Carmen about El Salvadoran culture; she’s taught me four different ways to say manure in Spanish!). Through working together, we build our garden, our community, our health and have a lot of fun. I’m quick to tell anyone “It only works if you don’t enjoy it.”
I forget and go in the back door of the garage just as one of our nesting robins is flying in the other. We both throw our arms in the air (not very good for the bird, who reels backward into a wheelbarrow) and flutter out the doors we came in. I fear this new relationship may not last.
Matthew and Carmen garden here to feed their families and grow traditional foods they can’t buy readily in their community. Apartment dwellers can find some fresh earth to squish between their toes. Loretta has a plot at home but comes out to be part of the community. Neighbours drop by to chat and compare favorite varieties. Gardeners who don’t need the produce can donate it to the local food bank. As Matthew says: “Those who have gardening in their bones, must garden. Not to would make you feel terrible guilt.”
Those who manage the project want our gardeners to learn the importance of the life in the soil, and to see the earth as a valuable member of our community. The Clareview Community EcoGarden is a project of Personal Communities Support Association and Voices of the Soil. Catherine and I are garden managers (hired through an Environmental Canada EcoAction 2000 grant). We organize everyday activities, a small Community Shared Agriculture enterprise on the site, and are available for support or to teach those who want to learn new gardening practices. Catherine makes great coffee and always carries extra mugs.
Loretta carefully sets out a makeshift birdbath and scans the sky for her new companions. I decided to remove our little family – a concrete pad will be unforgiving to a young robin learning to fly – but no need to tell Loretta just yet.
Community Gardens are springing up on the internet as well. Edmonton’s Community Services Dept. is in the process of adding local gardens to their website. Other sites have information on starting a garden and Jeavon’s biointensive methods.
Contact your local municipal office or garden club to find a community garden close to you, or put an ad in the local paper and wait.
Opportunities will spring up!