It's all about community

Sarah Smellie
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Sara Tilley poised to open Cavell Park Garden

Sara Tilley stands among the boxes which will soon be used as part of the Cavell Park Community Garden. - Photo by Sarah Smellie/Special to The Telegram

"It hurts in the late fall, when you have to go back to the grocery store to buy your vegetables!" says Sara Tilley, who is sitting on a stack of 10-foot by four-foot wooden frames in a park off Cavell Avenue.

"They don't taste like anything. There's just nothing like your own fresh picked vegetables."

Tilley is a founder of the Cavell Park Community Garden, which is about to celebrate its inaugural year of operation. The frames she's sitting on will soon be spread out and filled with soil on the large field next to the swings and the seesaws in the Cavell Avenue Playground.

All told, there will be 25 full-sized beds; four raised table beds, which sit at waist-height for the mobility-impaired; and four small kids' beds.

"We spoke to the city last summer and they were very enthusiastic," she says.

"They helped us sort out how much of the park we could use. Then we built these frames in the fall, after we had a survey of the community asking what they would like from a community garden and how much they'd like to pay."

Members of the community garden paid $60 for their full-sized raised beds. That $60, says, Tilley, will wind up saving them hundreds in food costs.

"I've been growing my own food in my own backyard for years, in raised beds, barrels, and in a small greenhouse," she says.

"I hardly ever have to go to the grocery store in the summer. I grow kale, chard, herbs, everything. Last season, my broccoli kept going until early December."

It was her own experiences with gardening that inspired her to create the Cavell Park Community Garden.

"The difference it makes in my quality of life is amazing," she says. "It makes me feel healthier. It tastes better. It's cheaper than grocery shopping, and it's empowering to know how to grow your own food. It's one of the things that I'm most passionate about in my life."

She's not alone. According to Kristie Jamieson, executive director of the Food Security Network, the number of community gardens is on the rise across the province.

"We tried to make an inventory of all of the community gardens across the province," says Jamieson-

"But in the past few years, they've been cropping up everywhere. It's hard to keep up with them all."

Jamieson says the spike in gardening interest is part of a growing consciousness about food security - the idea that all people, at all times, should have access to nutritious, affordable food.

"I think that events that have happened over the past couple of years have really got people concerned and talking about food security here," she says.

"Hurricane Igor was a really big scare. It made people realize just how dependant we are on outside food sources and how dependant we are on the transportation routes themselves."

The lockout at the Port of Montreal in the summer of 2010, which saw longshoremen locked out of the port for five days during a labour dispute, also highlighted Newfoundland's precarious food situation, says Jamieson.

"Fifty per cent of the goods that come to the province come through the Port of Montreal," she says.

"So, if that had lasted much longer, we certainly would have seen a big impact on the food availability in our grocery stores."

All in all, she says, studies have shown that about 90 per cent of Newfoundland's produce is imported, and only two per cent of the agricultural products in an average grocery store were produced in the province.

"That's been estimated to lead to a two to three-day supply in the event of a crisis or a disruption to food transport," she says.

Those two incidents led more and more to people to call her office, looking for ways that they could improve their community's access to cheaper, fresher, locally produced food.

"We're really seeing an increase in the amount of initiatives getting started in communities across the province," she says.

"Farmers' markets are a great example: five years ago the St. John's market was just getting started and that was the first formal market in the province. Last year, there were over 10 markets in Newfoundland, ranging from one-off markets to markets that last all through the season. Many of these have been started by consumers, people who come together and say we want access to fresh local foods."

The Food Security Network can help people or organizations start farmer's markets, community freezer programs for meat, organize gardening workshops for different climates, or arrange teleconferencing sessions to help develop a plan to address a community's food security issues.

They'll also help someone like Sara Tilley set up a community garden.

"The Food Security Network has a great collection of resources and guidelines," says Tilley.

"There's quite a network out there that I found, but I haven't actually met most of the people. It's more of a virtual gardening community, which is neat. You wouldn't think that gardening and the Internet would go together but they do. You can just put questions out there and people are so passionate that they'll answer, whether they know you or not."

Community building, both online and offline, has been one of Tilley's favourite aspects of the garden so far.

"On build day, we had a big group of people out here putting these together," she says, gesturing towards the stack of garden frames that towers over her.

"They would have never come together otherwise. They never knew each other before."

"And I'm really looking forward to the kids' beds being ready," she adds. "I don't have kids and I don't know many kids, but I really like being around them. Especially in a garden. They really get the true magic of watching things come up out of the ground."

Geographic location: Cavell Avenue, Newfoundland, Port of Montreal St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Sara
    May 09, 2012 - 11:27

    Cavell Avenue is off of Quidi Vidi Rd (across from Belbin's Grocery), and the park is at the end of that street. The garden will be located to the side of the playground area, in a previously unmoved and unused piece of the park.

  • Jennifer
    May 06, 2012 - 19:46

    Way to go. But, where is Cavelle Avenue Playground and Cavell Park?

  • Joseph McGrath
    May 06, 2012 - 15:50

    Good luck to these different method of increasing our food production in NL without imports.I went there last year and purchased some food items and they were really good.I relize they cost more and can cause those on fixed incomes to take a second look but in the long run I think you get much more for your dollar.Well done and people should really support the efforts.