News Local

Growing the community garden

Lori Penner

ACAN task force members, Jack Heppner, Jason Peters and Joel Martin, are excited to provide the vision and the hard work to help the Altona Community Garden thrive.

ACAN task force members, Jack Heppner, Jason Peters and Joel Martin, are excited to provide the vision and the hard work to help the Altona Community Garden thrive.

ALTONA - 

The Altona Community Garden is growing in a new direction this year.
The seed for the project was planted last year, when Jim Perry-Hill had a vision for a place where people in the community could pursue their love of gardening, provide healthy food for their families, and get to know one another through the fellowship of growing their own food.
The chosen site was a 100 by 400 ft. strip of unused town land on the east side of the Millennium Exhibition Centre. The town was in full support of the project, and it enjoyed a good response in its pilot year.
This year, the Altona Community Action Network (ACAN) has stepped forward, hoping to take the vision for the garden to a new level. ACAN was formed several years ago, with the goal to support and encourage eco-friendly practices that contribute to individual and societal wellbeing.
ACAN has made a contract with the town to manage the garden, while the town tills the  plots every spring and fall, and also provides water for the gardeners.
The group recently formed a three-member task force that will provide direction and organization, as well as expertise to local gardeners of all kinds. Task force members Jason Peters, Joel Marten and Jack Heppner have experience in general agronomy, composting and organic gardening, and are eager see this project grow.
Heppner says they applaud Perry-Hill for starting the project. “It’s a big task to take on by yourself. It’s a wonderful concept. Jim started a good thing here, and we’re building on that.”
Perry-Hill says he applauds the group’s efforts. “It builds community, solves some of the issues of food security, and is a wonderful way to welcome the strangers in our midst. Kudos to those who can give it their attention.”
Going forward, the task force plans to make a number of changes to improve the garden experience for participants. One of these changes is to the design and designation of plots.
“Last year, the plots were organized in kind of a random way. Many of them were 1,800 ft, which was too large for some of the gardeners to manage. A number of them ended up only using part of the plot, and the rest got quite weedy. There was also an issue with organization. In some cases, the town was unable to till some plots without disturbing others, so there was some frustration.”
Heppner says they’re going to assign smaller plots which will be more manageable for the hobby gardener, and ambitious gardeners can request additional plots. Whole plots will be 15 x 45 ft. and half plots will also be an option. A basic fee structure will be established per lot.
 The task force is also planning to add a number of other features, including an area where local gardeners can congregate and visit when taking a break from working the soil.
“The plan is for a 40 by 40 ft. commons area at the entrance of the garden. We’re working on getting a 10 by 12 ft. tool shed, which would provide secure spaces where gardeners can store their own tools.  We’re also going to stock the shed with some common tools that everyone can use. The point is to make gardening accessible for everyone.”
 They’re also planning to provide compost bins and a compost/manure supply.
“There’s also going to be a sandbox where kids can play while their families garden, and a couple of picnic tables. We see it as a gathering place, so why not provide a communal area to relax and maybe even do occasional potlucks and get-togethers where people can show off their garden.”
The town will supply water, and the group is hoping to have a large tank onsite which gardeners can use to fill their gardening cans.
ACAN has even come up with a logo and a mission statement for the garden: Altona Community Garden is providing space to connect with earth, community and food.
“It sums up what we’re all about with this project. The community piece is something we know will happen naturally. I’ve been gardening my whole life. Whenever you get a bunch of gardeners together, working side by side, there’s a community that develops. There’s nobody as happy as a group of gardeners producing food together. You start to reap the rewards from your labour. By midsummer, you start to bring some of the food home, and you’re having fun and really enjoying this process.”
Heppner says there’s a long term value here, as well.
“There’s a legacy we’re providing here. Joel is offering to coach new gardeners. A lot of the younger generation hasn’t got a clue how our food came to be. They’ve never seen their parents garden. They have no idea how to plant a seed and help it grow. But they can learn, and maybe teach their children how to grow their own food, as well.”
He expects the task force will need to raise some funds in order to pay for some of these new features and will be looking to the community for some help. They’re also hoping the community will support them by donating their unused, but still in good condition, garden tools.
“There are always people who have stopped gardening for one reason or another but still have garden tools. Hopefully we can get a head start on collecting hoes, watering cans, wheelbarrows, etc.”
 For more information on the Altona Community Garden, or to donate, call Jack Heppner at 204-304-0656.