When someone mentions their garden, you might assume they mean the one they have at home. But it’s just as likely these days that they’re talking about a community garden. In St. Albert and elsewhere, community gardening is bringing more and more people out of their backyards and into spaces where they can pursue their hobby together.
In fact, this social aspect is one of the biggest draws of community gardening, with fellow gardeners sharing and interacting with one another as they tend their plots.
“Community gardens are a place to bring people together, a place to learn new skills, to see a project to fruition,” says Sandy Jamison of the St. Albert Community Garden (SACG). “Everyone brings a unique skill set, ability or resource that can be channelled into a project. We learn as much about ourselves as we do the people we meet at the garden.”
A member of the SACG since 2012, and currently serving as chair of its executive, Jamison describes that garden’s members as a diverse cross-section of young and old, with some families represented by multiple generations. They pay $15 per season for each of the garden’s 45 plots, where they grow almost every kind of vegetable possible—with the exception of potatoes. The SACG has had a “no potato” policy in effect for some time now, due to potato beetle infestations. “This is a common issue in the St. Albert area,” Jamison notes.
There’s more to community gardening than simply looking after a strip of earth, however. At a typical community garden, members are also responsible for the overall upkeep of the space. This is often done through periodic “work bees” that members are expected to volunteer for. Together, they see to a variety of chores: organizing tool sheds, maintaining paths and flower beds, looking after compost piles and water barrels, distributing planting materials and so on. It might sound like a lot of extra work, but it keeps gardens looking great and ensures that all members get the most out of their experience there. It seems to be working, too, as many community gardens have lengthy wait lists of would-be gardeners hoping for a plot to open up.
These gardens also foster a strong sense of stewardship. In the case of the SACG, the site on the Sturgeon River flood plain that it has occupied since 2001 also happens to be a designated environmental reserve. The City of St. Albert owns the land but licenses it to the St. Albert Community Garden Association. Other gardens may have different arrangements, but the sense of responsibility is consistent across the board. No surprise, then, that many community gardens tend to promote sustainable growing practices. That means no chemical pesticides or fertilizers and watering must be done by hand. The result is a delicious and sustainable haul of organic food. SACG members are encouraged to donate part of their harvests to the St. Albert Food Bank, as a way of giving back to the community that has made their garden possible.
“We are our own community within the larger community,” Jamison says. “We help each other, rely on each other and work toward a common goal.”
If all this sounds like your bag of mulch, there are a number of ways to get gardening in St. Albert. While the St. Albert Community Garden is the oldest, it is just one of five community gardens in the city. More information can be found at the website of the St. Albert & District Garden Club, at www.stalbertgardenclub.info. And if the wait lists are too long in St. Albert, dozens of garden sites are scattered throughout the Capital Region. A run-down can be found at www.sustainablefoodedmonton.org. t8n
Despite the recent surge in community gardening, the basic concept isn’t exactly new. So-called “Victory Gardens” were popular in Canada and elsewhere during both world wars, as civilians used their backyards to raise food to supplement rations and help the war effort.
St. Albert’s Community Gardens at a Glance
Gate Avenue Neighbourhood Garden: Located by the Christian Reformed Church on Gate Avenue.
Meadowview Lane Community Plots: Located across from the St. Albert Grain Elevator Park on Meadowview Road.
St. Albert Botanic Park Volunteer Rows: Located in the park and set aside as a reward for park volunteers after they’ve worked a certain number of hours there.
St. Albert Community Garden: Located to the north of Riel Drive, between Westcon Precast and LBH Timber Mart. Founded in 1999 and originally located in Riel Park.
St. Albert Parish Heritage Garden: Located behind the St. Albert Catholic Parish church on St. Vital Avenue. Founded to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the parish.