Spring is in bloom and seasonal activities will soon be as well. Beginner or avid gardeners will soon have the opportunity to rent a garden plot in Durham Region.
There are many community gardens on city-owned land. The Mary Street Community Garden in Oshawa was created in 2011.
Brenda Theriault, and Val Purnell are volunteers at the garden. “We’re all volunteers,” says Theriault “We get paid through what we produce.”
Theriault was a garden co-ordinator for three years before stepping down. Purnell is currently the treasurer.
The garden currently has 41 plots. Six plots are raised for accessibility-required gardeners and all plot rentals vary from $20 to $25 per year.
Oshawa has four community gardens in total, but there’s room for more due to You Grow Durham. A financial grant, when available, of $500 is given to those interested in starting their own community garden.
The grant was created by Durham Integrated Growers (DIG), a non-profit organization which supports local community food production through education, resources, and assistance.
The grant is available whenever there is enough money provided through donations, repaid grants, and 25 per cent of all DIG membership fees.
DIG members can have their community garden featured on DIG’s website durhamdigs.ca. Other membership benefits include access to research reports, newsletters, opportunities to participate in garden tours, and more.
The You Grow Durham fund helped create the Mary Street Community Garden.
“We paid it back. We cancelled something that we were saving for and paid them back so they could start another garden off,” says Purnell.
Purnell says they ask new gardeners what they would like to grow and recommend the best seeds to use and not to plant too many.
“I think that’s the biggest thing novices come across is they plant so much that they get full and they don’t realize a little goes a long way,” says Theriault.
Seeds should be planted by June 1. The garden water bins are filled every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Gardeners can visit any day between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to water their respective plots.
“We help. If you’re away you can ask someone to water your garden while you’re gone. It’s a community garden, everybody has to remember it, it’s for the community,” says Purnell.
Volunteers at the garden vary from children to seniors. Apart from the wide age dynamic, Theriault says the Mary Street Community Garden has a certain “international flare.”
She and Purnell have met many gardeners at Mary Street with different cultural backgrounds such as Australian, Afghani, Indian and more. They bring a variety of fruits and vegetables to the garden.
“I know there’s people that started to grow okra now, which is really unheard of at one time growing in Canada. But they’ve developed strains that’ll grow in the climate,” says Theriault.
Participation in a community garden has a lot more benefits than just fresh fruits and vegetables. The outdoor activity creates relationships and can relieve stress for some of the volunteers, says Theriault.
The shared interest of gardening creates connections. Theriault reflected on some volunteers at the garden who deal with depression or have had cancer.
“Going through that and being able to share that experience and being able to talk,” says Theriault. “It’s just good to get that communication going and letting people know you care about them.”
Because the garden is on city-owned land, gardeners are not allowed to sell their produce after harvest. They can either keep their crops or donate them to local food banks.
Previously, gardeners have included their produce in recipes for the Mary Street potluck, a social event held semi-annually in July and August. Contest prizes and draws are offered there.
“Just like the ground, it’s a work in progress. It’s a growing community as well as growing vegetables, relationships, friendships,” says Theriault.