Community Gardening Blooming in Lambton Shores
(Written by Pat Morden)
It started on a cool but sunny Saturday in May 2012. A group of Grand Bend, Ontario residents met on a patch of grass behind the community soccer fields, shovels and rakes in hand. Most of them didn’t know each other, but they had one thing in common: a burning desire to grow vegetables!
Many people in Grand Bend, a lakeside resort town, live in heavily treed areas, where vegetables grow reluctantly if at all. A community garden was started in 2011 on a small patch of land behind the Community Health Centre. It was tough going – the soil was heavy, and the season was late, cool and wet. Still, there was great excitement when a few carrots and other vegetables were harvested.
In early 2012, there was construction on land adjacent to the Community Health Centre, and the garden had to move. The soccer field site was provided by the Municipality of Lambton Shores, and volunteers eagerly went to work. On that first April work day, the grassy ground was broken and a rustic fence was erected to keep rabbits out. Before long, garden manager Walt Michielsens had created eight 4’ X 12’ raised beds, surrounded by mulch walkways, and installed a water tank. Generous funding from the Grand Bend Community Foundation paid for soil, lumber and other supplies. By the end of May, gardeners were planting out their plots. Michielsens created a welcoming gate and gardener Sonja Collinet painted a sign.
Meanwhile a few kilometres away in the small community of Arkona, something similar was happening. Shawn Young, an Operator with CH2MHILL, the water and wastewater management contractor for the Municipality of Lambton Shores, was inspired by the expanse of lawn surrounding the wastewater treatment plan. “I thought about how much grass we cut here,” says Young. “I wondered if there was something else we could do with the space that would enhance the community, get people involved and have a bit of fun.” With support from the municipality, which provided compost and mulch, sweat equity from CH2MHILL employees, and seeds donated by the local Home Hardware, a 20’ by 40’ garden took shape.
Elsewhere in the municipality other community gardens flourished. The people of Thedford Knox Presbyterian Church established their garden in 2009, also producing veggies for the local food banks. North Lambton Community Health Centre replaced flower gardens with vegetables at its Forest and Kettle Point sites. Produce was used by the Centre’s dietitian in nutrition programs for youth and young mothers, and for a local Community Kitchen. In 2012, the Centre also participated in the One Tomato Project, designed to encourage youth to volunteer in their communities. Communities in Bloom co-Chair Catherine Minielly and her husband Jim experimented with raised beds at their Forest home, a pilot project intended to expand throughout the community in 2013.
It was a wonderful year for growing vegetables, with lots of sunshine and warmth. By the time the CiB judges arrived in Lambton Shores, the community gardens were bursting. A group of gardeners gathered at the Grand Bend site to greet the judges, beaming with pride. With minimal maintenance the garden in Arkona produced more than 500 pounds of produce for the Forest Food Bank. “We had a great time,” says Michielsens, “and everybody was thrilled with the results.” Both Young and Michielsens have plans to expand the gardens in 2013, and other community gardens are also gearing up for another growing season.
Community gardeners are springing up across Canada. When asked what makes the Grand Bend garden unique, Michielsens answers simply: “It’s ours. We got our hands dirty building it, and we harvested the vegetables. That’s a great feeling.”