When was the last time you got down and dirty in the garden? Harvesting your own tomatoes, zucchinis, carrots or other favourites is a rewarding, educating and even humbling experience. Community gardens allow people to grow their own food and learn some life skills along the way.
The City of Burlington’s first community garden, which is located in Central Park, grew from a seedling of an idea in 2011. There are now two others at Amherst Park and the Francis Road Bikeway, with a total of 86 plots available. “It was very successful and proved to everybody that there’s a demand and people want this. We are also hitting that trend of the local food movement,” says Michelle Bennett, Community Garden Coordinator for the City of Burlington. Plots at each garden are 2m x 3.6m (in ground) and 1m x 2m (raised accessible plots). The cost per year is $50, and plots are awarded through a lottery system for the season, which runs from May to October.
The program continues to grow in popularity, and Bennett says that it’s likely a fourth garden will be created at Maple Park on Maple Avenue in the near future. “I would say everyone is thrilled that they have this little piece of land that they can kind of call their own,” she says, adding that they provide “a sense of belonging.”
Burlington Green’s “Grow to Give” garden program, at the Central Park garden, harvests food which is delivered to Food for Life, then the produce is distributed to Halton food banks and community agencies.
The Town of Oakville has three community gardens at Shell Park, Kingsford Gardens and Lyons Lane. Each plot is $79 for the season, which also runs from May to October.
While municipal gardens provide opportunities for people to grow their own food, local restaurateur, Julia Hanna, has taken it further. She launched the Healthy Fam program five years ago, to teach people how to grow food and to learn where their food actually comes from (not just “the grocery store”). Builders Starlane Homes and Rosehaven, owners of the property at Dundas and Neyagawa in Oakville, donated the land to Julia and built a beautiful, professionally landscaped garden, which also has wheelchair access. “Last year we worked with a group called Project Autism. We were blown away by how much working in the garden connected with the children in a way we hadn’t expected, which was really joyful,” she recalls.
In addition to the program fostering important life skills to participants (both young and old), Hanna’s program follows the whole process from seed to plate. Cooking classes are held at Longos. “There’s another challenge: you’ve grown all this wonderful food, but people don’t necessarily know how to utilize it,” she says. What are her favouite things to do with a fresh tomato picked from the garden? “No question about it, bruschetta with fresh basil, or oven roasted tomatoes tossed with fresh Parmesan,” she says.
Hanna says that the beautiful thing about food is that it’s inter-generational, whether it’s planting a seed in the ground or gathering around the table to eat. “If culinary skills and learning how to grow things are not being passed down, which is where we’re at now, where do you learn? This is why Healthy Fam is so important,” states Hanna. “It’s a place to learn and provide skills – such as knowing how to use a knife, knowing how to shop, knowing about certain foods. It’s exciting to see how excited the kids get.”
Burlington Green – burlingtongreen.org
Burlington Public Library Seed Library – bpl.on.ca
City of Burlington – burlington.ca, 289-983-6527
Healthy Fam – healthyfam.ca
Town of Oakville – oakville.ca/culturerec/gardens
Written By Becky Dumais