Since 2010, Brooks (Alta.) Christian Reformed Church has operated a unique community garden that has become an important resource for the church’s neighbors.
After the city’s public community garden was shut down due to a variety of construction and underground service work, Brooks CRC established the Growing Together Community Garden using a portion of the church’s 2.5 acres of property. Comprised of raised garden beds and using a square-foot gardening technique developed by Mel Bartholomew, the church’s garden can achieve better yields with fewer resources than a conventional garden with tilled rows.
“We have raised garden beds that are 4’x8’, and they’re gridded into one-foot squares. A 4’x8’ garden box would have 32 squares in it,” said Murray Denoudsten, who oversees the community garden. “Bartholomew’s planting guide explains how many seeds of whatever you want to plant to put in each square. The idea is that you optimize growth, you conserve the amount of seeds you use, and you also economize on water by simply watering the root balls throughout the growing season.”
Brooks CRC’s garden started out modestly with 12 garden boxes. But the overwhelmingly positive response from the community prompted them to make presentations to a variety of local service organizations to raise additional funding to expand the project to include 13 more boxes, a protective fence to keep out wildlife, and heavy duty weed fabric covered with bark mulch between the garden boxes so that the aisle-ways never have to be weeded.
Each year in April, the church issues a call for applications in the local newspaper, through food coalition email broadcasts, and via social media for people and organizations to use a garden box for the season.
“We really have opened it up to the community, so anybody who feels that they perhaps don’t have the garden space at their home, or if they live in a townhouse or an apartment where there is no garden accessibility, they’re more than welcome to apply to be a gardener [here],” Denoudsten said. From retirees who have returned many years for a garden box, to new Canadians from Brooks’ large immigrant population, to community groups, the garden is accessible to a mix of people.
“It’s been a good outreach into the community for our church. It gets people to think outside the traditional ministry box. By opening this up to the community regardless of ethnic background or economic position . . . it’s really there for everybody. We frequently see interactions between our garden members who might not otherwise come to know each other. Gardening is one of those neutral things, just like talking about the weather; people feel comfortable coming together and getting to know each other. It’s been really interesting to see the diversity and the various service organizations using this as part of their program now,” Denoudsten said.