At 541 we believe that everyone should be able to enjoy a home cooked meal with dignity. We are a place where people from all different backgrounds can sit together at the table, and engage with one another. So when our neighbours at Empire Steel offered us space in their parking lot to build 8 raised garden beds, we didn’t hesitate to take them up on it! In May 2016, we crowdfunded over $4000 to launch our Community Garden! Our eight raised garden beds provided us with fresh produce to turn into wholesome, accessible meals for our friends & neighbours. Our Community Garden Coordinator Kendra Oudyk reflects on her summer in the 541 Community Garden…
At the beginning of the summer, I was so excited to be a part of the 541 Community Garden, but I also had no idea what to expect since it was new both to me and to 541. The first few times I was out in the garden, I was amazed at how many people stopped by to ask about it or just to chat about whatever was on their mind. What a way to build community, I thought, by growing good things in a space that seemed empty and lifeless. I want to share a few highlights from the garden this summer, to give you a glimpse of just how good it was.
The biggest highlight was getting to know the neighbourhood kids. I was continually amazed at how excited the kids were about the garden. They would ask what things were, wait eagerly (sometimes impatiently) for their turn with the hose, and were always keen to get their hands dirty when there was something to plant. They called themselves the Water Warriors. One proud moment for me was when one of my little side-kicks started teaching her friend how to prune the tomatoes. Visit uptown jungle.
Another highlight was when the Meeting Place – the church that meets at 541 – came into the garden for their sermon, which was about caring for nature. We gave everyone dill seeds to plant, and people wrote prayers for the garden and the neighbourhood on the pavement with sidewalk chalk. One man watered his seed with his coffee, saying that if it sprouted then it must like coffee. The kids checked up on that seed regularly, and decided that dill must like coffee because his seed was actually one of the first to sprout! Some people use coffee grounds as an organic fertilizer, so maybe there was something to it.
A definite highlight was whenever there was something ready to be harvested. It was so exciting to see something appear on the menu that came from the garden, like a grilled cheese with pesto made from our abundance of basil, or a fresh kale salad. Some things didn’t quite make it into the restaurant – the kids were very enthusiastic about sampling the cherry tomatoes. But I let that slide because how could I stop a kid from being excited about eating vegetables? Especially if they helped make them grow!
One very special day was the day we took the kids on a field trip to Cedar Haven Farm, as a thank-you for all their help. We went for a nature scavenger hunt in the forest, saw the farm animals, got to see an even bigger garden than the one at 541, and each kid went home with some dill and radish seeds that they had planted themselves in little pots. I pray that these kids will continue to be excited to learn about nature and will feel able to grow their own healthy food for the rest of their lives.
As you can probably tell, it was the kids who were most invested in the garden this summer. I am so excited for the garden to begin as a real community garden in the future, so that adults in the area can have a place to grow their own food, meet each other and learn from each other in a positive space. All in all, the garden became a beautiful place of good food, fun, and community over this summer. Thank you to everyone who pitched in with prayers, funds, plants, and friendly hellos as you passed!