PEI

P.E.I. actors who play farmers tackle the real thing

Life is imitating art this summer as a couple of Island actors who play farmers have begun a market garden to help feed themselves and fellow thespians in the Charlottetown Summer Festival.

Matt Campbell and Stephen Guy-McGrath feed fellow thespians from Cecil's Garden

Stephen Guy-McGrath and Matt Campbell admire their burgeoning crop of tomatoes in the Legacy Garden in Charlottetown. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Life is imitating art this summer as a couple of Island actors who play farmers have begun a market garden to help feed themselves and fellow thespians in the Charlottetown Summer Festival.

Stephen Guy-McGrath, who plays Cecil the farmer in Anne of Green Gables the Musical at the Confederation Centre, and Matt Campbell, who played the same role two seasons ago, have joined forces to create a micro-business they call Cecil's Garden. They've been growing lettuce, beans, kale, peppers and more in Charlottetown's Legacy Garden since late May. 

It's actually more intuitive I think than people realize, gardening.— Matt Campbell, actor

"Matt called me in the spring and said 'Steve, I got this great idea — let's get a farm!'" recalls Guy-McGrath. "Matt had a kitchen garden last year that I kept raiding." 

Campbell, who this season plays Edmund Pollard in Spoon River at The Mack, signed them up for the community garden plot, which measures about one by 30 metres. 

Campbell had taken up gardening the last few summers, "mostly in pots and on rooftops," he said, and felt it was time to try something bigger. 

'Practical foodies'

Cecil's Garden has a web page where they update what vegetables are available and cast members place orders. The Cecils wash and bag the produce and deliver to actors and Centre staff. 

'Big sellers are the chard and the spinach, and the kale of course,' says Stephen Guy-McGrath (left), who plays Cecil the farmer in Anne of Green Gables. (Sara Fraser/CBC )

The abundant crop the plot has already produced has fulfilled dozens of orders from fellow actors, the two said, along with many of their own meals. 

"Big sellers are the chard and the spinach, and the kale of course," said Guy-McGrath. 

"We try to keep almost not-for-profit prices, just kind of cover the overhead," said Campbell. 

Guy-McGrath also plans to make pesto from the abundant basil plants and offers green smoothies.

"People needing their energy for the show or they're feeling a little delicate in the voice, and I bring them in spinach and ginger [smoothies]."

The two also admit to being "practical foodies," said Guy-McGrath. "We really like to eat, we like cooking, we like good food."

Tillers of soil

Does playing a farmer help the actors' abilities in the garden? 

"It's actually more intuitive I think than people realize, gardening," said Campbell with a laugh. "Water and sunshine and just really care, and attention to detail."

They also like the no pesticide, almost-organic growing conditions at the community garden.

"I just make it up as I go, for the most part," said Guy-McGrath. "I put it in, some of it lives, some of it dies. What's the worst that can happen?" 

The two enjoy the solitary outdoors of morning gardening, away from the hustle of the nighttime stage, as well as the community aspect of the garden.

"There are people around us who've been gardening y'know 30, 40 years, so you can get tips," said Campbell. 

All in the family

And the garden is very much a family affair, the "Cecils" said. 

All in the family: Stephen Guy-McGrath and Eleanor Guy prepare to perform in Anne of Green Gables at the Confederation Centre. (Stephen Guy-McGrath/Facebook )

Campbell's wife Alicia Toner, who also plays several roles in Spoon River, lends her expertise in the garden, as does Guy-McGrath's daughter Eleanor Guy, who proudly shows off their flourishing crop of banana peppers. Eleanor is also a pro onstage — she plays Cecil the farmer's daughter, one of the children of Avonlea in Anne

Guy-McGrath's wife Melanie Phillipson enjoys the fruits of her family's labour as she prepares to play in Belles Soeurs: The Musical this fall, also at the Confederation Centre. 

"They actually like the food, so that makes a big difference," said Guy-McGrath. "So when you say, 'Hey, try this tomato fresh off the vine with a little piece of basil that was grown next to it,' and you suddenly go — that's a treat!" 

Encore? 

"The grand plan is maybe one day, we'd love to turn the roof — and I have no permission to do so yet — turn the roof of the Confederation Centre into a living urban garden," said Campbell.

In his vision, the garden could provide soup kitchens and homeless shelters with food.

Eleanor Guy shows off the banana peppers she helped grow for fellow actors in the Legacy Garden in Charlottetown. (Sara Fraser/CBC )

"That's a goal. I'm going to talk to some people and see if we can't get some grants in the works for 2017," he added. 

"Once you're a Cecil, you're always a Cecil," said Guy-McGrath of the plan. 

Guy-McGrath also plays the Australian suitor in Mamma Mia! which is proving to be a big hit for the Centre this season, with several sold-out shows so far — something that's almost unheard of. 

About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca