With the harvest picked, children and adult volunteers in the Food for the Future community garden project gathered at a local church to plan their next move —and enjoy a feast of garden-fresh produce.
Some of the 10 new gardeners who had already emptied their plates were darting outside to play in the crisp fall air. What did they like best about gardening?
“Harvesting! Eating! Making money!” they cried.
The children each pocketed $20 to $30 selling peas, lettuce, beans, carrots and squash from their individual plots at the town’s Friday afternoon farmers’ market.
All were eager to continue gardening next year, but one girl added that she wished, “weeds never existed.”
There were “no failures” in any of the plots in the 30- by 50-foot garden, although a temporary loss of water in the summer caused some concern, said Leah Lees, who started the project last spring with a $5,700 grant from the Manitoba Alternative Food Research Alliance.
Interestingly, the children wanted the garden divided into individual plots that each were responsible for tending, although the row of corn was grown communally.
“They didn’t want collectivism,” said Lees. “I think that’s because it’s the way our society works. Everybody wants to have their own independent patch.”
But independence came with a price. Small plots meant each gardener only had tiny amounts of vegetables to sell each week, and had to compete with their fellow students for customers.
They also learned about seed selection, thinning, and how to protect tomatoes from blight by spreading lawn clippings under the vines thanks to expert gardener Alice Olive, who retired from teaching Grade 1 in 1993.
“It was so fun,” said Olive, adding that she often went out to the garden intending to work for just 15 minutes, only to discover that three hours had passed.
“The kids were wonderful. They really were.”
The project accomplished “way more” than she initially thought it would, said Rhoda Canning, who jointly co-ordinated the project with Lees.
“Leah just asked me if I was interested in helping with the garden,” said Canning. “But I didn’t know about all this other stuff and it ended up being way more than I had envisioned. It was great.”
The project, sponsored by the Oak Lake and Area Economic Development board, was aimed at getting old and young people to work together to bridge generations, and teach youth not only how to grow vegetables, but also about how to cook and enjoy healthy foods.
The Oak Lake Agricultural Society has agreed to let the children use the garden site on the east side of the curling rink next year, and may expand it. Lees is seeking feedback from the community on future plans, which might include using the Community Supported Agriculture model.
Lees has been nominated for a Golden Carrot Award by Food Matters Manitoba in recognition of her efforts.