What started as an empty lot beside the Boyle Street’s Community Centre is now a colourful community garden that feeds the bodies, minds, and spirits of Edmonton’s most vulnerable. As the seasons change, we wanted to reflect on the heartening growth that our community garden experienced throughout its first year.
Last year, the Katz Group leased the lot next to our Community Centre and helped us transform it into a courtyard space, where our community garden now sits. With repurposed planter boxes from the former Baccarat Casino and garden stakes painted by Boyle Street staff and clients, our community garden quickly found its place in the inner-city landscape.
In May, Boyle Street’s Drop-In Program Coordinator Dan secured a grant from Sustainable Food Edmonton to launch the community garden. Everything we planted is edible, which brought joy to our staff members, who were occasionally caught nibbling on arugula and chives, as well as our clients, who often remarked on the growth of various vegetables on their way in and out of the building.
Our community garden and courtyard space hosted a myriad of community events over the summer, including bike workshops, tie-dye shirt making, and the Inner-City Pet FoodBank.To celebrate the community garden’s success, we hosted a Harvest Party and BBQ Lunch. With help from Sustainable Food Edmonton, Lady Flower Gardens, Arcadia Brewing Company, and the Edmonton Food Bank, Boyle Street was able to feed over 250 clients a harvest meal that included fresh produce from our community garden. Dan, the staff member who started the garden, holds the Harvest Party as his fondest memory of the season:
“Giving our chef, Ani, spice containers filled with crushed dried herbs from the final harvest was a poetic end to an amazing season.At the beginning of the summer, we didn’t know how much yield we could reasonably expect from our courtyard garden, so to be able to provide ingredients for the kitchen was a great bonus. It’s our objective to improve food security for our community and it doesn’t get any more local than from the courtyard to the community kitchen.”
Boyle Street is no stranger to community gardens. In fact, some of Edmonton’s first community gardens were planted in the Boyle Street neighbourhood as part of the City’s “greening the inner-city” initiative in the early 1990s. However, community gardens have always been about more than greenery. Inner-city community gardens combat food insecurity by giving low-income residents access to fresh produce and build stronger neighbourhoods by bringing people together in a shared space.
Boyle Street’s community garden gives our clients a place where they can feel a sense of control and belonging. Our clients who are experiencing poverty and homelessness face many daily challenges, including stigma and discrimination. While we work to connect our clients with the resources they need, it can be frustrating and exhausting to navigate the systems which change so often during COVID-19. Our community garden is a place that remains certain amidst the uncertainty. Clients can display their art, participate in activities, and eat the food that they have helped to grow.
Dan discussed the value of the community garden to our clients at Boyle Street:
“By transforming the courtyard into green space, the environment immediately becomes more inviting. The care and time it takes to garden and harvest creates a tangible sense of ownership for community members. It is also a low barrier entrance for community members to objectively change their own surroundings, learn new skills, and even have fun.”
It was challenging to welcome our clients into the new community garden while prioritizing health and safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Ideally, the garden would be open to all our clients but the need to ensure physical distancing limited the number of people involved in the garden this season. During workshops and events, the garden became a refreshing space for our clients when many other services were closed.
Next season, we hope our community garden will be a place for our clients to come and call their own. We are also excited by the potential to host more Indigenous ceremonies and programming in the garden. Getting clients involved in growing food in our community garden would be a small step towards acknowledging and reviving food as a pathway to spirituality and healing.
Our community garden had an incredible year and first harvest. We would like to thank Sustainable Food Edmonton for their generous contribution and Dan from the Drop-In team for his dedication to the garden. We cannot wait to see how our community garden grows next year.
To read weekly updates from our community garden this season and next, check out Dan’s community garden blog.