Community gardening should be the summer pastime of choice during a pandemic

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This article was published 19/5/2021 (243 days ago), the information it contains may therefore no longer be up to date.



Move on to the Year of the Ox. The gardeners take over.

If the number of people tending to plots in community gardens and green spaces across the city over the past week is any indication, the pandemic-friendly hobby will be as popular in 2021 as it is. It was last year when Greenhouse Canada magazine declared 2020 the Year of the Garden in its September 2020 issue.

Barbara Ediger got her hands dirty long before gardening became a trendy pandemic activity. She has owned land for over 25 years in the Riverview Garden Society space between the Riverview Health Center and the bank of the Red River.

“My garden is too shady. Too many trees, so I’ve never been able to grow vegetables there. Vegetables need sun,” she says.

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JOHN WOODS / FREE WINNIPEG PRESS

Barbara Ediger harvests asparagus at the Riverview Garden Society. She also volunteers with the Sustainable South Osborne Community Co-operative.

Ediger is one of more than 100 people growing vegetables on the company’s land, and she has a waiting list of ready-to-start people looking to join. She remembers the hard work she and her family put in when she started planting seeds in the ground.

“Amazing,” she says of the effort. “It had been neglected for a while so it was a lot of work to get the quackgrass out. It was a lot of work but at the time I was much younger, had young children and my husband was helping me, so between the four of us (we made it work).”

She also volunteers with the Sustainable South Osborne Community Co-operative, and in doing so, she can access the harvest of fruits and vegetables that the co-operative and its affiliated garden clubs grow.

At the start of the heat wave in Winnipeg on Monday, Ediger was one of many volunteers at the nearby co-op orchard, watering the more than 100 fruit trees that stand on both sides of Churchill Drive and its many berry bushes and nuts.

“Seven minutes per tree, five minutes per bush,” she says of the time everyone was given to avoid Winnipeg’s spring drought. The co-op and society have permission to draw water from the nearby river to fill several giant tanks that members use to water gardens and trees.


Ediger has owned land for over 25 years in the Riverview Garden Society space between the Riverview Health Center and the bank of the Red River.

JOHN WOODS / FREE WINNIPEG PRESS

Ediger has owned land for over 25 years in the Riverview Garden Society space between the Riverview Health Center and the bank of the Red River.

Sustainable South Osborne and the Riverview Garden Society are responsible for oddly shaped plots of land in the Riverview and Lord Roberts neighborhoods, including the area wedged between the Red River and Churchill Drive.

Handshake agreements between the city and the two community groups have been the way business has been for years – Riverview has operated since the 1950s and the South Osborne Co-op since 2009 – but in the past week they all have the two signed leases with the city to make the relationship official.

The groups signed the agreements at the picnic tables on the site with the councilman. Sherri Rollins, who represents the region on the city council.

“It has always been with permission with city parks and open spaces. All the development we’ve done has been done through letters of agreement,” says Rod Kueneman, founding member of the South Osborne Co-op. “About three or four years ago, the city decided that these agreements would be transformed into leases.

Nonprofit groups pay $1 a year for the lease and a $250 fee in the agreement, Kueneman says, a sum that can be recouped through gardeners’ plot fees, donations or fundraising events. funds such as harvest dinners.

Ediger dit que rencontrer d'autres pouces verts et être à l'extérieur la fait revenir chaque printemps sur son terrain de la Riverview Garden Society.</p>
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<p>JOHN WOODS / FREE WINNIPEG PRESS</p>
<p>Ediger says meeting other green thumbs and being outdoors keeps her coming back to her Riverview Garden Society lot every spring.</p>
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<p>Com.  Brian Mayes, who is the city’s representative on the Winnipeg Food Council and also chairs the board, believes community gardens are a great way to turn excess land into a city highlight.			</p>
<p>“I used to run there in the late 70s and 80s, it was just a wasteland behind the hospital,” Mayes recalled of the Riverview Garden Society website.  “It still makes me smile. I still run there, but it’s a happening place, there are all kinds of people there. He was brought back to life.”			</p>
<p>He believes the community aspect of gardening can be an example for new neighborhoods in Winnipeg to follow and is pushing for gardening and green spaces as the city’s footprint expands.  Raised garden beds were installed next to St. Vital Arena last year and there are plans to do something similar at West Kildonan Arena.			</p>
<p>“(There has been) progress, but not as much as I would like,” Mayes said.			</p>
<p>Access to water can be a stumbling block, he says, and some community groups, such as the Spence Neighborhood Association, have managed to strike deals with neighbors on his community plots to share water from rain collected in barrels.			</p>
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"Last year we just planted most of our plot in potatoes and donated them to Bear Clan Patrol," Edger said.

JOHN WOODS / FREE WINNIPEG PRESS

“Last year we just planted most of our plot in potatoes and donated them to Bear Clan Patrol,” Ediger said.

“When we are not able to make these agreements, we have to pay to fill up with water,” explains Mandalyn Unger, the association’s environment and green spaces coordinator. “And because it’s hotter and drier, there’s less rainwater to collect.”

The Spence Association cares for nine community gardens in the downtown district, many of which are raised plots that have turned vacant land into homes for vegetables and herbs. He is also teaming up with the Daniel McIntyre Community Association, the West Central Women’s Resource Center and 1JustCity on three other gardens. In total, Unger estimates that around 30 individuals or families maintain the gardens she oversees.

“At the start of the pandemic, people were a little scared, but we seem to be getting that back,” says Unger. “There’s a sense of confidence that people can be outside working on the gardens.”

Ediger, the gardener from Riverview, is one of those who have continued to grow vegetables and volunteer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meeting other green thumbs and being outdoors brings her back every spring to hoe the soil and every summer and fall to harvest the crop.

“Truthfully, I don’t really need my plot anymore because I get enough vegetables from (volunteering with) Sustainable South Osborne, but now it’s just a force of habit,” she says. “Last year we just planted most of our plot in potatoes and gave them to Bear Clan Patrol.”

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Twitter: @AlanDSmall

Alain Petit

Alain Petit
Journalist

Alan Small has been a Free Press reporter for over 22 years in a variety of roles, most recently as a reporter in the Arts and Life section.