As the growing season draws to a close, gardeners in Beddington Heights have pondered how to successfully create a garden worth visiting for their own community.
The Community Garden is located in the disused Beddington Theater Arts Center ice rink, formerly the Beddington Community Centre.
“I think it’s been really good for the community,” said Mavis Chong, garden organizer and founder of the project.
“People come by all the time when I’m here, when other people are here, and just ask ‘what’s going on, how do I get a plot.'”
The garden had 42 plots available for 2022. Of these, six have been set aside as pollinator beds containing several types of flowers and pollinating plants, and eight have been set aside to grow food for the community and food banks, including the Veterans Food Bank of Calgary. (VFBC).
Chong said the garden grew out of his community gardening experience elsewhere in Calgary.
“I used to live in Crescent Heights, which has three community gardens, so I’m like, ‘why can’t we have one here?'”
Wide Range of Community Garden Types in Calgary
Natasha Guillot, executive director of the Calgary Horticultural Society, said there are a wide variety of different types of community gardens in the city.
She said it’s more formal types, like the Beddington Heights community garden associated with a community association, and then less formal types like in backyards, churches or shared spaces.
“There are many versions of the community garden, and this only underlines their importance,” Guillot said.
“The desire is so deep that we will find land, whatever the structure, to farm and share, and so I think that’s really a testament to the fact that it’s just not a one-size-fits-all solution.”
Guillot said community aspects of gardening exist, even when people are not formal plot owners.
“When people walk past community gardens, and they’re not even part of the community garden, it’s just in their neighborhood, it has an impact on mental health that goes way beyond even setting foot in this garden,” she said.
“Just the visual aspect of growing food together etc. is a positive thing for the whole neighborhood.
Community garden one of the few in Calgary for VFBC
Beddington Heights is just one of the few community gardens that have veterans-only plots.
Allan Reid, president of the Veterans Food Bank of Calgary, said as one of Calgary’s newest food banks, they haven’t had quite the same connection to community producers.
“Our name is spreading, it’s growing every year with veterans using our services, but a big push this year was closing the sale of our ranch by Caroline, Alberta,” he said.
“Regardless of that, there’s, there’s always a need, and these guys have always been successful when it’s time to build it all up. Veterans really appreciate it.
He said the VFBC would like to partner more with community gardens to increase food security for veterans.
“They just have to call us and let us know what their plan is because they are the driving force behind the community garden and we are just the beneficiary,” he said.
“We would pay for seeds or whatever they need from us.”
The VFBC provided a sign at Beddington Garden to help deter theft this year. He said they particularly appreciate and cherish the support for the food bank.
“I know there are a lot of veterans falling through the cracks and we’re doing our best to try and catch them.”
Community garden changes use of former ice rink site
Chong said it took more than a year of City of Calgary approvals to create the community garden. The location, she said, made the creation easier because it didn’t directly impact the residents.
“We had maybe four or five locations in mind, and this one the committee kind of said, ‘Well, that’s the best because the rink is underutilized,'” Chong said.
“We thought, why not do it here to bring more traffic to the area.”
The garden is now located in the old hockey rink, one of two rinks that were located at the Beddington Theater Arts Centre. The second leisure rink remains for winter skating and summer performances by artists.
The hockey rink boards were removed several years ago after they had become dilapidated and posed a safety hazard. This place had already seen instances of vandalism, graffiti and even bonfires.
Unfortunately, Chong said, some of this social disorder has carried over to the new site in the form of vandalism and vegetable theft.
“We expected it, but when it happens it’s different again,” she said.
“We blew up our shed a couple of times, and some stuff was stolen – no big surprise – and the benches were ripped up a couple of times to be used for skateboard ramps.”
She said it was still worth doing the garden, even with the vandalism. She and other volunteers plan to install a skateboard ramp next year to deter skateboarders from using garden furniture.
The community garden will enter the Field Law Community Fund Program competition in October to try to win $15,000 for its operations.
Beddington, a success story for Calgary’s community gardening scene
Guillot said it can be very difficult for groups to successfully start and maintain a community garden.
“I feel really bad for anyone who wants to start a community garden,” she said.
“You know the old saying ‘if you build it they will come’, well you know what, in community gardens if you build it they might not come. And we have a plethora of examples where the movement to build a community garden was led by only a few and there was no mass buy-in.
She said success comes from a strong community desire for a garden, and backing that desire up with real community support.
“When you have the support of the community, you are guaranteed to succeed,” she said.
Chong said that apart from a single naysayer, they have a genuine interest in the garden.
“The support has been really good.”
A community survey conducted by the Beddington Heights Community Association during the consultation phase showed that a large majority of residents, 84.3%, fully supported the work of the volunteers to build the garden. A further 13.7% said they would support the garden, but not use it. Only 2% said they did not support the creation of the garden.
Chong said they are currently planning to expand the garden for the next growing season. They are waiting for the waiting list for the plots to fill up before considering anything more formal.
For more details on the Beddington Community Garden, visit beddingtoncommunity.ca/garden.