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Neighbourhood garden box brings giving to northwest Calgary community

After losing her job during the COVID-19 pandemic, Audrey Whitlock decided she would instead work for her northwest Calgary community.

Whitlock has since started construction on a neighborhood box at her Bowness home. It’s a public garden that serves as both a charity for the neighborhood and a social experiment to lift spirits during COVID-19.

Whitlock lost her job as a geological technician in the oil and gas sector due to COVID-19. Her asthma prevents her from going back to work post-pandemic.

That presented an opportunity.

Stuck in a corporate job, the pandemic gave Whitlock the opportunity to follow her agricultural passions.

“I was having a pity party the day I got laid off. I was in front of my garlic of all of places, six o’clock in the morning going, ‘I just can’t do this anymore. I just can’t do this. I can’t live this inauthentic life,'” she said.

“The oil and gas sector provided me with a lot of awesome opportunities, But it just ate at me. It wasn’t meeting me. I’m a maker, a creator.”

Turning loss into an opportunity

Whitlock directed more energy into her passion for gardening. She wanted to give back and perhaps earn turn it into full time work.

“I’m trying to establish this [garden box] as my job,” she said.

“I’m good at gardening, and I’m good with technology. Why not give back to the community and try and create an opportunity?”

Whitlock used her tech-savvy skills to reach out to locals and distributors to help her create the neighborhood box. She hopes that this project be a symbol of resilience in the community and help those struggling during this pandemic.

People can donate resources like wood and soil, or personal time and dedication. In return, donors receive fresh local produce and the skills to grow their own garden.

“I’m feeding my local neighborhood, so if you donate to me it gets distributed very locally to the people in need,” she said.

“I do plan to contact the people who have donated and offer them some small token of appreciation from the box. If you’re willing to put in the work, there’s no reason why you can’t get some benefit.”

Whitlock hopes that this is the first of many boxes to come as she has seen so much support from the community. ISAIAH LINDO / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Whitlock wants to turn this project into a non-profit. The hope is to create a culture of helping others and giving back, something she believes people need more than ever.

She plans to fit up to 13 boxes on her property to grow this experiment into a job for her family.

Outpouring of support from the community

On the Calgary Gardening Facebook page, Whitlock has received overwhelming support from her neighbors and the community. It’s been everything from providing resources to helping build the box itself.

Juliana MacPherson applauded the project on the Facebook thread.

“Hi I have soil from a mature garden and I also have treated wood to give from an existing deck that can be used for planters,” she wrote.

Michelle Ripley also voiced her support for Whitlock.

“What an amazing thing you’re doing.”