With a bit of experimentation and nurturing, Gil Langerak has converted several sections of land at Elmira’s First Street community garden into what will certainly yield an interesting harvest of lettuce, tomatoes, herbs and flowers. A longtime gardener, he has tapped into what is quickly becoming a favourite pastime for the region’s residents.
Though the weather’s been unsettled this spring, there’s been enough sunshine and warmer temperatures to get local gardens in bloom. The short growing season hasn’t prevented larger numbers of people from taking part in community gardening, which has become a popular activity, with gardens popping up in many rural and urban communities.
“I work in an office and it really lets me stretch my desk jockey muscles,” Langerak said of his motivation to get involved.
He’s not alone, as a recent study by the Region of Waterloo points out in telling the stories of local community gardeners.
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For enthusiasts, there is nothing like getting tangible results from the soil they till every growing season to supplement the local produce already available through growers in the region, said Langerak.
Woolwich Community Services started community gardening initiatives in 1993 with two gardens, located on Snyder Avenue and an organic garden on First Street, open to all Woolwich residents. Kelly Christie of WCS said the regional study confirms the many positives of gardening.“I think the increase in people’s interest in community gardening … part of it is not just being the social [aspect]. It’s also knowing where their food has come from and that they’ve grown it themselves, the cost-savings and just the freshness of having the vegetables from their own garden,” she said.
Community gardens are also springing up in Wellesley Township, where a number of groups and residents are joining in on the trend. Going even beyond the borders, the Wellesley group took over a community garden started by the Wilmot Family Resource Centre in 2012. The land on Gerber Road, which saw three plots last year, has expanded to 10 this growing season.
“Having the knowledge and the resources to grow your own food is essential in times like these and I have a passion for food and education around food,” said Laura Bauer, who successfully started a community garden this spring on her Carmel-Koch Road farm (between Wellesley and Baden).
Bauer hopes the rural setting will invite growers to share their knowledge and help rookie growers learn the skills to produce their own organic foods.
The heightened interest has prompted a regional study and video project. Eighty-four gardeners were interviewed last summer to create a video series and a research piece by the University of Waterloo in collaboration with the region.
“They felt a lot healthier when they gardened, it was a way to de-stress. They also mentioned being a lot healthier and they ate a greater variety of vegetables and they were also more active, said Carol Popovic of the region’s Public Health department.
“Vegetables and fruit are important in the prevention of chronic disease,” she added.
But creating a community garden takes more than just a green thumb. A member of the Community Garden Council at the Region of Waterloo, Bauer said there are many rules regarding the kind of land that can be used and one of the biggest challenges is getting people on the lots themselves.
“The biggest hurdle for me was marketing and getting people out. I also had to physically plot out the space into sections for all of the different members.”
She’d like to see the work take off in the future.
“I hope that one day we can have a greenhouse and a lot more people involved and workshops throughout the summer,” she said.
“I figured why not get people out and share some resources?” Baer added.