The Cliff Bungalow Community Garden is one of several similar installations sprinkled throughout the city, and interest in creating new community gardens continues to grow, according to the Calgary Horticultural Society. Courtesy Lynn MacCallum

Growing closer

Community gardens bring neighbourhood residents together

When Lynn MacCallum helped out with the Cliff Bungalow Community Garden during its construction in 2014, it was with a view towards having some garden space of her own.

“We are in a condo, and like many people in the neighbourhood, we didn’t have access to growing food in our own gardens,” said MacCallum. “I think a lot of people in the garden live in an apartment, so other than growing a couple of herbs in a pot on a balcony, there wasn’t much opportunity.

“Growing food was foremost, but what has happened is this community that has been created, which is pretty awesome.”

She says there is a real social aspect to a community garden. Due to Calgary’s challenging climate for gardening, people share their success stories, as well as the types of things to avoid planting because they don’t do well.

MacCallum says young families have embraced the chance to garden with their children.

“I know for some people with small children, it’s showing them where food comes from, how to grow it,” she said. “And they look forward to going to the garden to get their food for dinner that night.”

Interest in community gardens continues to grow, says Laurie Barr, co-ordinator with the Calgary Horticultural Society’s community gardens resource network.

“The Calgary Horticultural Society has been around 110 years, as of next year, and has seen the growth of community gardens from zero to about 160,” she said.

“Growing food was foremost, but what has happened is this community that has been created, which is pretty awesome.” – Lynn MacCallum, Cliff Bungalow Community Garden volunteer

Barr says the resource network provides a course on how to start a community garden, “which helps people understand getting insurance, how to get the support of community, how to do the design and construction, and what to consider.”

They also offer talks and workshops to community garden members on topics such as planting for Calgary’s climate and dealing with pests.

Barr says community garden leaders get together on a regular basis for the Kitchen Table Talks series, where they share their experiences and challenges.

The society also maintains a community garden section on its website at calhort.org with information and a database of community gardens.

Colleen Gnyp, with the Willow Ridge Community Garden, says they have 40 plots complete with irrigation and a composting area, a shed for tools, and a nice seating area for people to sit and enjoy the garden.

Gnyp says their gardeners include some seniors, families, special-needs residents, and quite a few people new to Canada, including one family that has three generations looking after its plot.

She says her own children, ages six and four, say they “love to grow our own food.”

“I’m really thankful we can still do that in Calgary, even on a small level,” she said.

At the Deer Ridge Community Garden, which was started in 2013, Bob Hall says they have grown from 20 beds to 29, including two wheelchair-accessible beds.

Hall says a local school uses two beds for their Grade 2 and 3 students, a local kindergarten uses another, and two are planted for the Calgary Food Bank.

Volunteers are responsible for all the work done at the garden, and new connections are forged between neighbours who might not otherwise interact.

“It’s amazing how many other people in the community you meet by being involved,” said Hall.

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