BONNYVILLE – A great growing season has led to a bountiful harvest that is going to those who need it.
As of Sept. 8, the Bonnyville Community Garden operated by the Lakeland Industry and Community Association (LICA) has donated more than 220 lbs of fresh produce to the Bonnyville food bank.
A total of 41 gardening beds made up of community plots and plots rented to individual gardeners, fill a large portion of the community garden, which is located between the Wholesale Club and Sobey’s buildings.
“This year, we have 17 community plots that are managed by LICA staff, as well as our garden members who have also contributed volunteer hours to help us weed and water and take care of the plots,” explains Kristina Morris, the executive director of LICA.
All the fresh produce that has been donated to the food bank has come strictly from those community plots, she notes
“Staff at the food bank have been thrilled that we've been able to provide so much fresh produce, especially because the prices of produce have increased exponentially. So, this really assists the families in obtaining those fresh vegetables that they may not be able to obtain,” Morris says.
Plots at the Bonnyville Community Garden have fared exceptionally well this year. LICA was able to contribute items such as cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes and zucchini, with more squash on the way.
At the end of September, and once harvest season is done, LICA will receive data on how many families and individuals were helped through the community garden’s donations.
Growing a community garden
This year marks LICA’s third year growing the community garden.
Building and shaping the community garden has taken place in phases. The first year was focused on establishing the space and creating a handful of planting beds for public use.
In Phase 2, the remaining beds were constructed for a total of 41 gardening beds as well as the addition of a gazebo. This summer, LICA contracted a landscaper who has added pathways through the garden and planted fruit trees and bushes.
Now that most of the construction is complete, the focus is to raise public awareness of the green space and opportunities for gardening, says Morris.
On Aug. 26, LICA hosted a Family Fun Day event in the community garden that included rock painting, a bouncy house and a barbecue put on by the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority, in an effort to get more community members in the shared space.
“We had about 100-140 people come, and the majority of them didn't know that we had a garden in the area, and that it was available for community use,” Morris says.
To help boost awareness and hopefully get more people to sign up for a plot next year, a Fall Garden Cleanup is being organized for Sept. 25 between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We are seeking volunteers to come help us clean out the beds, do weeding and the final harvest,” says Morris, adding players from the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs will be out lending a hand at the cleanup event.
To rent a plot in the Bonnyville Community Garden it costs an initial $10 to become a garden member and then it is $10 to rent a plot.
Community gardeners can sign up for up to two plots and have the opportunity to pick up additional plots at a later date if they have not been claimed. Businesses also have the ability to sponsor a plot for $50, and their employees are free to participate in gardening and harvesting.
Plot reservations are open at any time of the year and can be booked by calling the LICA office at (780) 812-2182. The garden opens for planting during the May Long Weekend.
Gardners from surrounding communities are welcome to rent a plot, as the program is not exclusive to Town of Bonnyville residents. Morris also notes that the community garden and green space is open to the public, whether or not they have a garden plot.
“At the beginning of the year, from May up until about the beginning of July or end of June, we have the community garden open between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is to allow community members to come in and use the space,” says Morris.
“Out of respect for the gardeners and to prevent vandalism and theft of vegetables. We have decided to lock the space for harvest season. Now, with that being said, if anybody does want to use the space, whether it's for an event, or even to come and pick vegetables from the community plots, because that's what they're for, they can certainly give us a call and we can unlock it for them.”
As time goes on, LICA also intends to host more of its workshops in the community garden.
“We are always confined to inside spaces and it's nice for people to actually go outside to learn versus being stuck in a conference room.”
Without in-kind support from volunteers and local businesses, Morris says there would have been no way they could have produced as much food in the community plots for charity as they did this year.
Since the community garden opened, Baby Cherry Greenhouse has donated the veggie starter plants used in the community beds. Local resident Scott Kovach also donated numerous vegetable seeds that were used in the garden this year.
Tank’d H2O Portable Water provided the water that filled both of the garden’s 500-gallon water tanks used throughout the entire gardening season. Precision Machining fabricated two water tank stands built from recycled materials.
Over a period of two years, Canadian Tire Cold Lake donated both sheds used in the community garden as well.