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Planting seeds as a community

Community gardens are springing up everywhere there's a bit of greenspace, and why not? The benefits are many, from reaping cheap, fresh produce, to socializing with fellow green thumbs.

Interest in community gardens has exploded over the last few years. If there’s an empty plot of land near a community centre or green space, chances are come summer, you’ll see a community garden sprouting up. And while gardening used to be reserved for those with a ‘green thumb’, it now attracts people of all skill levels and ages.

Shellbie Chayeski was not a gardener when she decided to kickstart a community garden project in her Calgary neighbourhood, but she had already studied environmental innovation and was no stranger to volunteering. Chayeski reached out to her community’s garden committee, which had been struggling for a few years to get the garden project off the ground.

"I threw in my hat. I thought ‘this garden is going to get built!’. I was like, ‘how hard could it be?’” said Chayeski.

With Chayeski heading up the organizing committee, the group then reached out to the community for help. By this spring, Chayeski and team were overwhelmed by the outpouring of residents who wanted to help any way they could.

“So many community members donated wood. The [raised] garden beds could not have been built without the kindness and generosity of the community. We’re hearing from residents we don’t normally even hear from.” said Chayeski. All 20 of the community’s raised garden beds were built with donated lumber from residents.

The committee also wrote grants, showing how their garden would encourage healthy living and benefit the community as a whole. This spring, the group was presented with a ChooseWell Healthy Community Grant, a windfall that will help the group expand its raised gardens, invest in larger rain barrels and create community food boxes. 

Just how widespread is community gardening? Joanna Tschudy, community development coordinator for the Calgary Horticultural Society, says there are more than 300 registered community gardens in its database.

Typically, registered community gardens are located near a community centre and on city property. But Tschudy says it’s hard to know exactly how many gardens there are because those on private land aren’t counted in the database. 

“In the past, it was often people who had time to garden, like seniors or retired folks, but now we have seen new gardeners young in age, more diverse in their background," Tschudy said. "It's everyone from new parents that are home with the baby, folks looking to expand their hobbies, to those looking to connect with the land beneath their feet. New immigrants have come together to create their own gardening and seniors are connecting in a social way.”

Tschudy says there has been a resurgence of community based around gardening, and it’s become a kind of intergenerational ‘incubator space’ for all backgrounds and skill levels that promotes a feeling of belonging and purpose. Not to mention, growing food from seeds comes with its own rewards.

“You can grow your produce and take it home, open beds for a food bank, have a communal herb plot or just grow garlic because you like it. It’s so easy to grow.” said Tschudy. “You put one clove in the ground, forget about it and then you get six or seven [cloves] back in return!”

“When we garden on our own the learning curve tends to be quite steep, but, when we garden in community it tends to flatten the learning curve," she added. “And let’s not forget all this community gardening supports biodiversity and contributes towards greening up our city canopy.”

For more information about community gardening, see Calgary Horticultural Society, and Edmonton Horticultural Society