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People who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, doing the heavy lifting, or digging in to get the job done are the kind of folks who pitch in at their neighbourhood’s community garden.
Community gardens are created, planted, maintained and harvested by a small army of “hyper-active” volunteers who are dedicated to building a healthy community. Many of the gardeners are involved in numerous community action initiatives.
While growing produce – much of the food is donated to people in need – the gardeners learn about healthy eating, food security, gardening and conservation. They enjoy recreation and comradery. The gardens are located at schools, churches, seniors’ homes and parks and make good use of previously under-utilized land.
The Sudbury Community Garden Network was established in 2008. It merged with The FoodShed Project in 2015 to provide a corporate structure for future projects and activities.
The president of FoodShed Project, Colleen Zilio, got involved with starting a community garden at Delki Dozzi Park in 2009 as a member of the Ward 1 Community Action Network (CAN).
“From there we started to connect through the city and the Social Planning Council with the other community gardens. It was just the right time. People were getting interested in local food and building community, and all of a sudden, here we are nine years later with more than 30 gardens operating.”
Community gardens are “Local Food Champions,” says Zilio.
Some gardens offer rental plots for individual use, but many are benelovent or shared gardens where volunteers grow food for the community, a food bank, a seniors’ centre or a school. And perhaps, more importantly they grow social connections within a neighbourhood.
Partnerships with community organizations, such as schools, church groups, neighbourhood associations, not-for-profit groups, and support from businesses, big and small, are key.
“School children plant seeds and nurture those plants in their classrooms, then come and plant them on planting days in June. Last year we involved four schools and 580 children and the local Best Start Hub were involved,” says Rachelle Niemela, chair of the Ward 8 CAN and garden leader at the Twin Forks Garden.
The Network works with the Sudbury Horticultural Society to host the annual Seedy Saturday at the Parkside Centre (March 3, 2018). The event promotes the exchange of locally adapted, open pollinated and heirloom seeds among gardeners. The Sudbury District Garden Network also takes part in the annual garden festival in late May.
The group has received support from Vale, Union Gas and TD Friends of the Environment. Locally each garden does its own fundraising and the contributions from garden centres, hardware stores and local business are critical to the on-going operation of these neighbourhood gardens.
The FoodShed Project has applied for a grant to hire young people this summer to work in the gardens. The Grow Up Gardens program would give the participants hands-on experience.
At the same time, this group is providing working examples of water conservation, and rethinking how to engage youth at risk.
The volunteers are also looking at setting up a centralized composting centre with conservation benefits as well as economic ones. The sale of compost would raise funds as well as create jobs.
Naomi Grant, who won the Community Builders Award in the Environment category in 2014, supported the Network’s nomination.
“The Sudbury Community Garden Network is the connector among Greater Sudbury’s many community gardens,” she says. “They fill that need for community gardens to learn from each other, share resources and work collaboratively. They also look at the “big picture” to foster new community gardens where they are most needed. The Sudbury Community Garden Network plays a very important role in our community.”