Carleton Community Garden: Growing Community, Growing Knowledge, Growing Food

The Carleton Community Garden’s Story

What was happening in your life and around you before you made the change?

The community did not have a garden up until 2 years ago, when 2 ladies from the neighborhood came forward and asked for help with this initiative. The Market Place Wellness Centre and a long time food bank volunteer offered to help get things started. Many community partners, volunteers and sponsors came on board and with the assistance of the Dept. of Healthy and Inclusive Communities, Port SJ, the City of SJ, Home Depot and the West Side Food Bank the Carleton Communuity Garden was planted in 2014 and continues to grow and expand.

What change(s) did you decide to make? What was your “tipping point”, the moment you decided to make change(s)?

We decided to seek funding, engage volunteers/community and partner with the food bank to make some positive changes that would result in healthy lifestyle opportunites for area residents. The tipping point was when the community members approached us and asked for help to initiate a garden project. Our wellness committee had dreamed of doing this for several years, but it was not going to happen and be a true success, until the community took the lead. We know that the most successful community projects are the ones that are driven by residents.

What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them (who and what supported you)?

The two biggest challenges were securing land and securing financing. We met with landowners and potential funders, told our story, and knocked on a lot of doors. Support has been overwhelming from government and local businesses and industries. The key was engagement and buy-in from the community. Residents really need to be part of the planning and implementation from the very beginning. There was a huge concern over potential vandalism, but because the community “owns” their garden, they are very proud of it and very protective. We even included children from the area in clean-up and planting. They have planted Marigolds and a pumpkin patch, over the past 2 years. The garden is adjacent to a large playground and the community centre and all seem to watch over it in this very busy area. We are proud to report absolutey no vandalism, in an area that has seen plenty over the years.

What are the results of your journey for you and those around you, both today and in the near future?

The garden has truly engaged the community. Participants are more physically active, as a result of gardening. They are eating healthier. Children and families have the opportunity to try new things. Gardeners and volunteers are planting and sharing fresh produce with the adjacent West Side Food Bank, so that residents who are living in this priority neighborhood have access to fresh produce. They even receive a healthy recipe, and/or nutrition tips with their package of produce. The gardeners love the opportunity to share with others. Children and families who are food bank clients are invited to visit the garden to see where their food comes from. Our newest addition to the garden is an orchard, which will allow all area residents, including food bank clients, to pick fresh fruit. The pumpkin patch is growing well and will hopefully provide some large pumpkins for carving in the fall. Future plans are to add berry bushes, compost piles, an herb garden and to increase the number of plots, as we currently have a waiting list. Carleton Community Garden is a local success story that can only “grow” much larger!