Community gardens take root in Regina neighbourhood's schools, backyards
North Central Community Association has expanded its gardening program this year
Blueberries in backyards, swiss chard on school grounds, sprawling bean and zucchini plants flanking the community centre — for the gardeners of Regina's North Central neighbourhood, this is harvest season.
The North Central Community Association has expanded its gardening program this year with the Branch Out project, planting fruits and vegetables at schools and in residents' own backyards to compliment the association's existing garden boxes at the mâmawêyatitân centre, Kitchener School and Oasis Church.
Community garden co-ordinator Maegan Krajewski said this summer's efforts are only the beginning of an expanded urban agriculture plan for the neighbourhood.
"We have successfully built new community gardens at Seven Stones Community School and in three backyards," she said. "That was just the first phase, and we're already thinking about what comes next. We have a few schools interested, and a few more backyards."
Krajewski's goal is to build ten new gardens in the neighbourhood before the end of 2020.
North Central resident Desiree Dieno and her family are tending one of the three backyard gardens built through Branch Out this year.
She said it has allowed her to give back to her neighbourhood and to teach her son about where food comes from.
"If it's ever crossed your mind to do community gardening, just do it — it's so great," she said. "There are so many benefits for yourself personally and for your neighbours. Everyone just pitches in and comes together to do the weeding and the watering and pick veggies."
Krajewski said the backyard gardens are a win/win scenario, where the gardeners keep half the produce they grow and give away the rest.
"The resident is responsible for watering and maintaining the garden on a daily basis, but I'm there to come and help out and get volunteers together if we need to do any big projects," said Krajewski. "The idea is to share the harvest - so the resident has access to all that fresh produce growing in their backyard, but a portion of that will also go to the community."
Dieno, who is doing the community garden box on top of her regular garden, is planning to distribute more than half of her harvest at the community association's harvest stands.
"There are quite a few low-income families in our neighbourhood, so the community gardens are great because they help feed so many people," she said. "We're just very passionate about helping people, and we love gardening."
Since 2008, community gardens have helped bring fresh and healthy food to the neighbourhood of nearly 10,000 residents, which does not have a local grocery store.
"The garden spaces we have right now don't have any locks or fences around them. Our motto has always been 'help yourself,'"said Krajewski. "The food is here for the community and everyone has a right to access it."
Krajewski, who has been the program co-ordinator over the last four summers, said she thinks about urban gardening as "creating a space that is both a site of revolution and a site of celebration."
"We're reclaiming urban spaces, reclaiming control over food production and doing that in our community, which I think is really powerful," she said. "At the same time, this space is also a site of celebration, because there is so much joy to growing food and making something delicious out of it. The fruits of our labour are literally fruits and vegetables that we can sit down and eat and enjoy."
The gardeners are already planning for the future.
"We've talked about how cool it would be to eventually have the kids and parents and community just grow their own food to use for the school lunch program," said Dieno. "It's a huge, huge dream we've got, but we have to start somewhere."
As the Branch Out program expands, Krajewski is hoping to see new garden plots and boxes cropping up all over the neighbourhood.
"My long-term dream is to set a new normal about urban agriculture and where our food comes from," she said. "I think every resident in our city who would like to use their land for urban food production and contribute to the community in that way should be able to do so. Anyone who wants a garden should be able to have one."