Creating Stronger Communities with a Garden

By Rita Gore, YMCA Volunteer Writer

“Research confirms that community gardens can  play a significant role in enhancing the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being necessary to build healthy and socially sustainable communities” so says a study out of Sydney Australia. But we don’t have to go that far to confirm this knowledge for ourselves.

Did you know that currently there are over 100 such community gardens right here in Calgary?

Four seasons ago in 2010, when I first checked into the concept in my area of town,
our Banff Trail community garden was one of only a handful. I remember
considering applying for a plot, at $20 it would have been a steal.

The garden is on the other side of my community though and the thought of having to
trudge down the streets from my place dragging my hoe and watering can and
wheel barrow behind me, kind of dampened my enthusiasm. Driving over would have
defeated the purpose in my mind. Besides I’m a bit of an introvert.

My answer was to create two, 5×5 ft raised beds in my own back yard. It’s been a successful endeavor my little plot; spinach, lettuce, carrots in one and parsley, sage rosemary, thyme, basil, and tomatoes in the other. The two beds produced enough greens to share with a couple neighbours and herbs for preserving and tomatoes for tomato sauce.

But from a conversation I had recently with Dana Galuszka, Hall Manager at our community centre I think I’ve missed the point.

To put it in Galuszka’s words, describing the evolution of the garden over the past four years, she’s been “gob smacked by the spirit of enthusiasm “shown by the two dozen or so members of the community garden.

“The beauty of it is that people now know each other, it’s been a real community builder.” The sense of cooperation Galuszka has witnessed has amazed her.

Its genesis came from a retired couple in our community who loved to garden, Vale and Mary Jean. It was they who took the imitative to apply for the $5000 grant from the City of Calgary and submit all the paperwork required. Without their efforts Galuszka says none of this would have happened.

A Garden Committee now oversees the whole process. The initial 20 beds available have grown to 30 plus two large communal plots with squash, potatoes and corn. Amazingly, short of a few radishes missing occasionally, there has been no vandalism.

The gardeners learned the hard way that plots on the ground don’t work. The pesky wild hares were the problem. Now all beds are raised. They’ve even been assigned names on a handmade wooden plaque; names like Larkspur, Violet and Delphinium all from the Rocky Mountain Flower book.

An area in the centre of the garden was left open with the dream of one day building a gazebo. That dream became a reality in 2012 when one of the community members who just happened to have building skills plus others from the community came together over a weekend to build the structure.

That gazebo has become “a focal point for people who rent the hall too” says Galuszaka. What was once a flat open space consisting of poor quality grass and dandelions has become “a beautiful, peaceful place” a kind of sanctuary for anyone looking for a peaceful contemplative space.

Look what I’ve been missing!

It’s a place to bring a book and sit in the gazebo, take some time to slow down or contemplate life, or to talk to any of the gardeners minding their plots; it’s our community garden after all and we are all welcome to spend time there.

Recently I dropped by to take some photos for our community newsletter and experienced for myself some of that “enhanced physical, social and spiritual well being” in action.

All kinds of people who I had never met before came walking through and talked to me. If we had passed each other on the street that would have not have happened; in the garden, it was a totally different story.

One man obviously on his way home from work and still in a suit, spoke to me as he turned on the tap and hauled the garden hose to water his plot before hurrying off, a single woman who said she had no plot, dropped by, stood and chatted for a while and said she just loved to walk in the garden in the evening.

The third person to greet me was an Iranian woman with her young son who lived in a basement suite nearby. She was new to Calgary and obviously missed her homeland. She told me that back in Iran her father had owned a farm had grown peas and potatoes to sell in the market. We talked about what spices she used in her cooking –saffron was one, and we both inhaled the pungent smell of mint from one garden. She told me that pumpkins and squash were popular too and that “pumpkin seeds are good for the brain.”

We exchanged names and when I asked her, if she would be attending our Community Stampede barbeque she hesitated and then asked “Are you coming?”  Even though I had not previously planned to I answered “Yes, I am-see you there, Zahara.”

Why not check with your own community association about what’s available or get involved with others in creating a community garden for next year? Have you got some comments or feedback to share, from your own experience?

Role of community gardens – Designing Healthy
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Faculty of the Built Environment, UNSW, Sydney, NSW,