As the growing season comes to an end, gardeners in Beddington Heights reflected on successfully creating for their own community a garden worth visiting.
The community garden is located in the disused rink space of the Beddington Theatre Arts Centre, formerly the Beddington Community Centre.
“I think it’s been really good for the community,” said Mavis Chong, organizer for the garden and founder for the project.
“People walk 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 those, six were set aside as pollinator beds containing multiple types of flowers and pollinating plants, and eight were set aside to grow food for the community and food banks—including the Veterans Food Bank of Calgary (VFBC).
Chong said that the garden came about as a result of her experience with community gardening 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 for the Calgary Horticultural Society, said that there are a wide variety of different community garden types in the city.
She said that these are more formal types, like the Beddington Heights Community Garden associated with a community association, and then less formal ones like in people’s backyards, churches, or in shared spaces.
“There’s many versions of the community garden, and that just speaks to the importance of them,” Guillot said.
“The desire is so deep that we will find land, regardless of the structure to grow and to share, and so I think that really speaks to the fact that it’s just not a one size fits all.”
Guillot said that the community aspects of gardening exist, even when people aren’t formal plot holders.
“When people walk by community gardens, and they’re not even part of the community garden, it’s just in their neighbourhood, that has a mental health impact that is well beyond even setting foot inside that garden,” she said.
“Just the visual aspect of growing food together and so on, that’s a positive thing for the entire neighbourhood.”
Community garden one of few in Calgary for VFBC
Beddington Heights is just one of a very small handful of community gardens that has plots set aside for veterans.
Allan Reid, president of the Veterans Food Bank of Calgary, said that as one of the newer food banks in Calgary, they haven’t had quite the same connection with community growers.
“Our name’s getting out there, it’s growing every year with the veterans that come use our service, but a big push this year was to close the sale of our ranch by Caroline, Alberta,” he said.
“Irregardless of that there’s, there’s always a need, and these guys have always come through when it’s time to build all this stuff. The veterans really appreciate it.”
He said that the VFBC would like to partner more with community gardens to increase food security for veterans.
“They just gotta give us a call and let us know what what their plan is, because they’re the driving force behind community garden and we’re just the recipient,” he said.
“We would pay for the seed or whatever they need from us.”
The VFBC provided a sign to the Beddington garden to help deter theft this year. He said that they were especially appreciative and cherish the support given to the food bank.
“I know there’s a lot of veterans that are falling through the cracks and we’re doing our best to try and catch them.”
Community garden changing use of former rink site
Chong said it took over a year of approvals from the City of Calgary to create the community garden. The location, she said, made it easier to create because it didn’t directly impact residents.
“We had maybe four or five locations in mind, and this one the committee kind of said, ‘well, this is the best one because the rink is being underused,'” Chong said.
“We thought, why not do it here to bring more traffic to the area.”
The garden is now located in the former hockey rink, one of two skating rinks that were located at the Beddington Theatre Arts Centre. The second pleasure 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 a safety hazard. That location had previously seen instances of vandalism, graffiti, and even bonfires.
Unfortunately, said Chong, some of that social disorder has continued on at the new site in forms of vandalism and theft of vegetables.
“We kind of expected it but when it happens, it’s still different,” she said.
“We had our shed kicked in two or three times, and some produce has been stolen—no big surprise—and the benches have been ripped up a few times to use for skateboard ramps.”
She said that it was still worth it to do the garden, even with the vandalism. She and other volunteers are looking at possibly putting in a skateboard ramp next year to deter skateboarders from using the garden’s furniture.
The community garden will be participating in the Field Law Community Fund Program competition this October to try and win $15,000 for its operations.
Beddington a success story for Calgary’s community gardening scene
Guillot said that it can be very hard for groups to successfully start and maintain a community garden.
“I really feel so 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 may 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 buy in from the masses.”
She said that success comes from a strong community desire for a garden, and that it requires backing up that desire with real community support.
“When you have the community backing, you’re guaranteed success,” she said.
Chong said that outside of a single naysayer, they’ve had real interest in the garden.
“The support has been really good.”
A community survey performed by Beddington Heights Community Association during the consultation phase, showed that a large majority of residents at 84.3 per cent fully supported the work of volunteers to build the garden. An additional 13.7 per cent said they would support the garden, but wouldn’t use it. Just two per cent said they did not support the creation of the garden.
Chong said they’re currently looking at plans to expand the garden for next growing season. They’re waiting until the wait-list for plots fills up before considering anything more formal.
For more details on the Beddington Community Garden, see beddingtoncommunity.ca/garden.