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Column: Community gardens are about way more than growing food

Gardens also grow community

By Hugh Kruzel

The rapidly rising numbers of community garden initiatives is a thing worthy of pride in a city long seen as bleak and barren. 

Residents knew better, and imagined a greener future. Sudbury — now blanketed by more than a million trees — is seeking ways to do more.

Small or large, urban or rural, pop-up or permaculture, allotment, benevolent, membership driven, organized or informal, all sorts of garden models are being tested and adopted; even a food forest and urban farm are being considered, planned, and advocated for in Sudbury. 

Guerilla gardening is happening in abandoned lots, approved spaces or along curbsides. Sometimes on municipal lands (especially parks), often on school properties, four or five friends or neighbours will lead change.

Monocultures of lawn are being swapped for a front-yard vegetable plot.

It is happening across the country, as if a national plan was being enacted. But it often is no prearranged, managed, nor staged roll-out of policy or mandate. Instead, a committed group of citizens “spontaneously” gather, and imagine a better world through producing food.

In Sudbury, the number of gardens has exploded. In just three years, the number surpassed 20 active sites, and an alignment with the Greater Sudbury Food Charter and local food strategy is actively encouraging two or more gardens per ward. 

Still so many people have no idea community gardens exist.

Through networking, and activism The Manifesto of FoodShed Sudbury certainly speaks to building community and encourages a food garden for every neighbourhood. 

A schedule of frequent meetings by “leaders,” welcomes all to share the vision. Naturally, the February through June period is especially busy. It is then that expansion plans are laid, planting regimes and focus discussed, motivational ideas (engagement like the tallest sunflower competition), and support for funding or sweat equity encouraged.

Fortunate for the Sudbury Community Garden Network, a guiding hand plus knowledgeable players (farmers, biologists, veterans of other cities and gardens), community input and support by city staff and local industry exists, and they all willingly collaborate. 

The Sudbury Public Library Main Branch now houses a seed collection, including saved heritage/heirloom and locally successful varieties. Seeds are available to all citizens.

In collaboration with the local horticultural club, Seedy Saturday is held annually in March. This becomes something tangible people can believe in. They see it, hear about it, line up for the doors to open, and attend right to the closing minutes.

It almost marks the end of winter and speaks to the optimism of longer daylight, melting and elemental desires.

In spring 2016, the arrival of a large landscape tote full to the brim with compost-boosted soil quality and moisture retention in many sites. This delivery — to those who had signed up — signaled a kick-off to planting. Soil is more than a media for roots; it is touchable, real and has taste and aromatics that reach centres of our brains. 

Immediately, or so it seemed, there was additional interest too. Many asked, “What’s going on?” and even lent a hand carrying buckets, moving boxes or picking up a shovel. 

Retaining those people and even recruiting more help is not always easy. Raising a work party often takes the enticement of a BBQ, warm tea and sandwiches in April, or cool drinks and an umbrella in the height of summer.

Spring planting craze is followed by forgetting about the importance of thinning, fades to worrying about watering, and then to neglecting the weeding (not always though!). Some community gardens just seem to thrive. 

Programming makes a difference. Having a central teaching garden that is a hub also works wonders. This could be composter building session, soil amelioration or workshops directed at how to use the food produced.

What can you do in your community? Spring is not so far away. Get ready for season 2017. 

Imagine the possibilities. Growing goodness is little different than tending a garden, so why not cultivate community by planting seeds of hope, fostering the future and nurturing neighbourhoods.  

Check out for current news or where  you can click on the interactive map for detailed views, addresses of gardens and food access, and perhaps most important: contact information.

Passionate about gardening, Hugh Kruzel has participated in gardens in Toronto, Ottawa and Esquimalt, B.C. Often nurturing young citizens to build compost bins, boxes and raised beds, he also sees the value of well-treed cities. He loves finding new varieties of edibles, heritage seeds, and unusuals. Pushing and extending the season, you will find him out – shovel in hand – any month the soil isn’t frozen like concrete.