Danie Bootsma along with her children Ethan

Community gardens setting roots, and greening thumbs

Green thumbs are on the rise in Central Alberta and it’s not just fresh vegetables they’re reaping from a little digging in the dirt.

Green thumbs are on the rise in Central Alberta and it’s not just fresh vegetables they’re reaping from a little digging in the dirt.

“There’s a lot of people, when we ask them what they’re looking for in a garden, who say they just want something friendly, to meet people, enhance that feeling of community,” said Danie Bootsma, the main driver behind bringing a community garden project to Penhold this spring.

“After people had been assigned their (garden) box number, my neighbour said she saw everyone and their families out there, all hands on, hands in the dirt.”

Similarly, the Springbrook community garden took off from a desire to get residents more active and engaged with the hamlet, said garden co-ordinator Adrian Pidhirney.

“Everyone in Springbrook tends to go other places for things like recreation, sports, almost everything, because we’re such a bedroom community. This is something where people can stay in town, meet their neighbours, invite people over for a fresh picnic or share food.”

The idea of a communal garden has been increasing in popularity over recent years as the “support local” movement continues to glean attention and more become concerned about what’s in their food and where it’s actually coming from.

It hasn’t missed its target in Red Deer.

The 228 city garden plots, which are prepared and rented out by the city, sold out again this year, said Ken Lehman, parks planning and ecological specialist with the city. Community gardens — neighbourhood sites managed by groups or associations or churches — are also growing across the city, with the sixth one just launching this year in West Park, he added.

“So there’s lots of demand and interest in both cases and it’s good for many things: healthy food, local food, getting people out in the fresh air, exercise, the young learning from the old who know a lot more about living off the land.”

New this year is the “edible forest” open to anyone in Red Deer. It can be found along the northern plots in Parkside Gardens (off of Nash Street).

Thanks to a Tree Canada grant, numerous red plum, pear, apple and sweet cherry trees were planted last fall along with blueberry and honeyberry bushes and about 150 metres of saskatoon berry hedge.

“It’s a community food forest. Anyone can come pick fruit when it’s ripe and we just ask people to be respectful and not haul it all away for themselves.”

The city is also preparing to install pallets this summer at each of its plot sites to collect weeds and other natural gardening debris.

Greenwood Neighbourhood Place in Sundre has rolled up its sleeves and is working hard to start planting its first community garden soon.

“Our working committee is getting quotes now about the garden boxes and how to set up. … We’ve just hired a part time co-ordinator for the garden as well to keep on top of things, recruiting volunteers, doing admin and advertisements, making sure the $28,000 in grant money we got is being applied in the manner it’s meant to,” said Marita Stermann, executive director at GNP.

Stermann said they didn’t know how many raised garden beds would be available to the public yet but that she believes there will be vegetables growing in them by mid June.

The Town of Sundre has jumped on board, too, allocating land on First Avenue for the beds.

“It’s something Sundre has wanted for a long time, 10 years or more,” said Stermann.

They also hope to have water troughs on site and a fence to keep out deer.

“It will be a site for anyone to come, see different types of vegetables that can be grown in our climate … A place for young and old to meet, the young people being mentored by seniors or non gardeners being helped by gardeners. It will help with food supply too as we are so far away from the bigger centres so having all this available to you, locally grown is just a huge bonus.”

Penhold’s community garden, back after a long hiatus, boasts 16 boxes, 15 of which have been rented.

Spearheaded and maintained by a group of local volunteers including Bootsma, Penhold’s garden is only expected to grow in the coming years. Bootsma hopes to have school classes and youth groups involved for educational opportunities as well, like at the Growing Together Gardens located at Unity Baptist Church in Red Deer’s Normandeau neighbourhood.

Here, a class of Grade 1 children are planting a garden for the first time, which will be harvested by the following class in the fall. Produce from a few other plots at Growing Together Gardens is donated to charities, such as Loaves and Fishes. Living Stones Church, Sunnybrook United and the Oriole Park Community Association have similar community gardening projects.

Springbrook’s communal produce patch is in its third year and will be seeing the addition of fire pits this summer to encourage more social gatherings and sharing at the green space.

It was the first year all 96 plots were sold out to about 23 different gardeners, Pidhirney said.

Springbrook has not only plots for individual gardeners but also a community plot where volunteers grow food for those who need it and donate the rest to the local food bank.

“We took 1,500 pounds of food to the food bank last year. The year before that was 1,300,” said Pidhirney.

Springbrook also has a plot dedicated specifically to youth who meet at the same time the former Boys and Girls club used to meet.

“The kids come out, plan what they want to grow, learn about where their food comes from, how to weed and there is crafts and fun stuff as well,” Pidhirney said.

Pidhirney is also planning a yoga and gardening event for June 11 open to the public.

rfrancoeur@bprda.wpengine.com

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