Brandonites itching to grow some of their own food this summer are waiting to hear if there’ll be room in one of the Wheat City’s thriving gardens.
March is the month when the hundreds of small plots, found in gardens throughout the city are assigned on a first-come-firstserved basis.
Some may get turned away. There are now waiting lists of eager gardeners hoping to get one of the 400 plots in Brandon’s network of seven gardens.
“There is huge demand for community gardening in Brandon,” Ryan Graves community development co-ordinator with Brandon’s Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation told a session at the Food Matters Manitoba’s Growing Local Conference in late February.
Community gardening has sparked interest across all age groups and demographics and people are doing it “for every kind of reason,” she said. Some do it for exercise and recreation, or as a social outing. “And some just want to know where their food comes from,” she said.
Community gardening has been done in the city for over 15 years. Last year was the first year a network was formed made up of the City of Brandon and the school division, Samaritan House, the Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada Research Station and the Brandon Friendship Centre. The network is co-ordinated through the BNRC office.
As they co-ordinate who gets a plot each spring, some are set aside for Samaritan House to distribute among to those needing to grow food to stretch a household food budget, Graves noted.
Many of the gardens have raised beds to allow individuals with back problems to enjoy gardening. Rock Park Garden, at the corner of 15th St. and Louise Ave. is popular among older persons who live in a nearby seniors’ residence.
Other gardens are attended by
children such as the garden at the New Era Community School Garden. The East End Community Centre Garden at Victoria Ave. and Franklin St. was built by Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) partnership with the Brandon Community Garden Network.
The largest garden amongst the seven is located at 26th St. and Maryland Ave. and has 150 plots, to be expanded to 200 this spring. Others are at 3rd St. and Aberdeen and at 12th St. and Van Horne Ave. Another garden near Rock Park garden is known as the Park Community Centre Cen- garden.
They’ve had to set down some ground rules – including no sales of produce grown on these public plots– and co-ordination has had its challenges, notes Graves.
“But there has been a ton of benefits from this,” she said. “If I had to pick one I would say it is the way it’s brought the community together.”
People are also getting more exercise, learning new skills and eating more vegetables, she added.
The gardening bug also bit more southwestern Manitobans beyond the city of Brandon last year too, thanks to another initiative of the Assiniboine Regional Health Authority.
RHA community dietitians Sandra Smith and Chantal Morais also spoke at Growing Local describing last year’s garden and food preservation workshops offered to help more people grow and harvest a little more of their own food.
The RHA was motivated by last year’s national nutrition theme of Dietitians of Canada – to eat a healthier diet of homegrown foods – but also by stats that show vegetable intake is low among many southwesterners.
Funding to run the workshops came through the RHA and Healthy Together Now, a chronic disease prevention initiative.
The workshops spurred many to try gardening on their own properties as well as community gardens such as those inititiated in Killarney, Morais said.
The two dietitians said both the how-to-garden workshops and food preservation workshops attracted broad interest, including among many young people who’d never gardened before, residents of several of the First Nations communities in the ARHA and
new Canadians who’ve moved into the southwest.
Participants were extremely enthusiastic about what they were learning, both at the gardening and canning workshops, she said.
“I just remember the face of this one girl who said she couldn’t wait to go home and try to grow potatoes.”
But with their own workload now shifting to other priorities, it’s not clear right now if or how this initiative will continue on another year.
“Our vision is for it to carry on in our RHA,” said Morais. “There is definitely more interest in it.”
Other dietitians around Manitoba have been made aware of the ARHA’s workshops. The model is now out there for others to try, added Smith.
“Therehasbeenaton ofbenefitsfromthis. IfIhadtopickone Iwouldsayitisthe wayit’sbroughtthe communitytogether.”