ST. PAUL - Mixed in with the hills of potatoes that are already waist high in many places, there are plenty of other vegetables growing in the St. Paul Community Garden plots, located just behind the Town Hall. And while many of the plants are typical to what most would consider a traditional northern Alberta garden, there are also a few unique plants scattered throughout.
Njama-Njama, also known as huckleberry leaves, is a popular food in the Central African country of Cameroon. The plant grows in a number of plots at the community garden. The leafy vegetable, similar to spinach, is eaten cooked and often mixed with other vegetables, like tomatoes.
Edith Atemboh came to St. Paul in 2012, and about three years ago became involved in the community garden society. She says her family had farms back home, and while gardening is certainly different than farming, being able to grow some of the foods that remind her of home is something she enjoys.
"It gets me to remember where I came from and what I used to do," she said.
Along with Njama-Njama, Atemboh and her family also grow potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, green beans, and carrots, among other things. All together, the family has a few plots at the garden site, and they often help each other out caring for the gardens. If there's work that needs to be done at her brother's garden plot, Atemboh will take care of it or let him know. Their mom often spends time in each of the family's garden plots.
They also look to their mom to help teach them tricks to be successful in growing the vegetables. When asked about any of the tips or tricks involved in growing some of the plants that some people may not be familiar with in the area, Atemboh said "Watering is very important." If it doesn't rain, she has to water some of the plants every day.
And while this year's community garden has been a little different, with Atemboh keeping her children at home and away from the garden site due to COVID-19, she says still enjoys being able to spend time outside caring for the gardens.
"We really appreciate the community for the garden," she said, adding, Dave Robinson, chairman of the Community Garden Society of St. Paul, is a big help and is always making sure everything is available for gardeners.
According to Robinson, there is now a total of 43 plots at the community garden site in town, which is up from 30. One strip of the garden is also dedicated to growing potatoes for the St. Paul Food Bank. This year, 400 hills of potatoes are growing and are being cared for by food bank volunteers.
The community garden also includes 12 plots located just outside of St. Paul. There are also a number of raised garden beds throughout the area and six new raised garden beds near the plots in town.
The society's mandate is to provide residents with the opportunity to experience the benefits of gardening. The production and harvesting of healthy fresh produce helps augment people's diets, which is the most important benefit to gardeners, according to Robinson.
A compost project is also ongoing at the site in town, and operates year-round, using different materials. A large pile of dark compost can be seen in one area of the garden - the result of successful composting. The project was started in 2013 as a way to reduce costs associated with hauling garden waste to the landfill and provide compost to gardeners.
Looking ahead, the society is hoping to build a greenhouse that would be heated by the composting that already takes place on site. Starter vegetables such as tomatoes, corn and cucumbers could be grown in the greenhouse when it's still too cold to plant them outside.
The society executive hopes the community garden project is seen as a positive example that inspires others who are concerned about how their food is grown and distributed, and how waste is disposed of. The society hopes to get other people thinking about ways they can improve existing systems.
The society works alongside partners such as the Town of St. Paul, local service clubs, the Second Harvest Project, the food bank, Owlseye Greenhouse and Northern Tree Services.