It all started on a sunny day in early May, when twelve Western University students assisted Roots to Harvest in digging a shed pad behind 125 Lillie Street in Thunder Bay. In the months that followed, fields of grass were transformed into nearly an acre of vegetable production space, a seed saving garden, an orchard, a community garden, a cold storage facility, school garden plots, a bee yard, and a four-season greenhouse.
The act of growing plants is by no means the whole story of a garden as it is only one facet. However, cultivation of this garden space was one of our major challenges. Before the property was touched, the neighbours said it had been a grass field for at least the past 50 years. It used to be home to hundreds of geese each summer and fall and was often driven upon. All this adds up to land that is devoid of nutrients needed for agricultural practices. That said, hauling in top soil has been essential to our ability to grow food on the land. We are grateful to Staal’s Soil and Sod, who gave us a generous discount on our soil, as well as to our funders, Jones & Associates and the iHeart Community Fund, both of whom allocated funds specifically for soil – the least glamorous but most necessary of things.
Despite the challenge, the advantages and rewards of gardening in the heart of a beautiful neighbourhood of tall trees, families, students and working professionals are great and many. Our landlords, the Lakehead District School Board, and their staff have been an enormous help with mowing, installing taps for watering, and countless other small kindnesses. Our community garden is a beautiful vibrant space, often a site where kids learn how to garden with their parents. Passers-by come in to the garden and ask about crops, tell of their history of living nearby, share stories, and tell jokes about the weather. Each Wednesday, vegetable seekers join us at our market for freshly picked garden delights and retired construction workers often come to marvel at the new greenhouse.
The garden has been a big change for the neighbourhood. We are occupying a field that some thought was beautiful as a grass landscape and we are bringing heaps of activity to the area. It has definitely been an adjustment for everyone. We are so appreciative of the urban agriculture enthusiasts for believing in the importance of this highly fruitful project. Regarding those who may not be as supportive of the urban farm - we hear them too. We know that a project this large can feel invasive but we hope that over time our presence in the neighbourhood can prove its value through careful stewardship of our growing spaces.
In a garden of this size, the first year is spent working out as many kinks as the season allows. We came in expecting to do that and we have done so to the best of our abilities. We are looking forward to many more seasons of refining and improving our practices and our space to bring out the natural beauty already present and to grow the best fruits, veggies and herbs possible. We’re also excited for days to look back saying “Wow, we started there?” just like we already do with that humble shed pad in May.
Written by Cherry Halcovitch, Community Grower with Roots to Harvest.