A future plan for the Common Ground Garden Project in Red Deer includes six garden beds as well as plantings along a circular trail. (Contributed image).

A future plan for the Common Ground Garden Project in Red Deer includes six garden beds as well as plantings along a circular trail. (Contributed image).

Common Ground Garden to feed those in need is expanding this summer in Red Deer

A second 10,00-square-foot raised garden bed will be added

It’s the perfect year to expand the Common Ground Garden in Red Deer’s Capstone neighbourhood, says its project lead.

More supply shortages are expected in grocery stores, and inflation is driving up food costs. 2022 has also been declared ‘Year of the Garden’ in Red Deer — so all things considered, it’s more important than ever to have a fresh and reliable supply of produce, said Art van Zanten of ReThink Red Deer.

His Common Ground Garden Project was started last summer on four acres of vacant land that’s eventually slated for development in Capstone, southwest of the Carnival Cinema.

By this fall, van Zanten hopes to donate at least 2,000 pounds of food to the Red Deer Food Bank, The Mustard Seed, Dream Centre, Central Alberta Refugee Effort, and other charitable organizations.

A fear of food shortages got van Zanten thinking about urban gardening early in the pandemic. He recalled watching a YouTube video about a brother and sister in Houston, Tex., who started a community garden in their city to help recently accepted refugees get a new start in life.

“I started the same discussion with the City of Red Deer,” said van Zanten. “I thought, we can do something great for the city of Red Deer by providing fresh produce.”

City officials were excited about this idea. They put him in touch with ReThink Red Deer, a local non-profit that’s long been working towards popularizing urban gardening.

Now a board member with the group, van Zanten discovered that local charities have trouble getting fresh lettuce and other greens for their clients. Produce tends to be near its best-before date whenever it’s donated, he added, so these groups were thrilled to gain access to a fresh, locally grown supply.

City officials offered to lend the Common Ground project vacant land in Capstone. Land and economic development manager John Sennema said mixed commercial-residential development is expected to grow over the next 20 years in this neighbourhood, at the heart of the city.

Since “it’s not going to happen overnight,” he added — so why not put some of this land into garden cultivation in the meantime?

Ground was broken in mid-2021, as a partnership between the City and ReThink Red Deer. Van Zanten said the first 10,000 -square-foot garden bed was planted late — at the end of June.

Throughout last spring and summer, interested passers-by stopped to ask questions about the garden, and many later became volunteers — dropping off seedlings, and helping two hired summer students maintain the garden rows.

By harvest, about 200 pounds of produce was delivered to The Mustard Seed. Van Zanten hopes to donate ten times as much fresh produce to five or more different charities this year.

When the snow is gone, volunteers will be installing a second 10,000-square-foot raised gardening bed, edged by hay bales to provide a longer growing season. Van Zanten said he will also be negotiating to gain access to a local unused greenhouse to start seedlings in April for planting after Victoria Day.

Project volunteers are planning to hold workshops each month this summer to pass on information about canning, composting and other subjects.

Van Zanten noted the Red Deer Food Bank wants to develop its own kitchen so some fresh produce can be turned into canned vegetables for clients throughout the winter months.

The longer-term vision for the Common Ground Garden includes six raised garden beds, as well as a circular limestone trail edged by herb and vegetable plantings. Van Zanten said he’d love to reserve some spaces for Indigenous groups to plant their own produce.

Some of the project’s harvest could be used to generate revenues for other urban gardening projects, added van Zanten, who’s heard local restaurants are interested in buying some uncommon herbs that are difficult to source.

Future plans could also include a small farmer’s market at the site.

Sennema called Common Ground “a fantastic project” that will yield a ton of benefits for the community.

Visit rethinkreddeer.ca/commonground for more information.