Open Gate Garden
Date posted: March 19, 2018
Today, we are pleased to welcome Nancy Taylor, the Literacy Outreach Coordinator of McBride, as a guest blogger. Her experience in helping create the Open Gate Garden shows agriculture literacy in practice at the community level.
At first, the response to a community garden in McBride was “we have done that, been there” and “the deer will decimate it” and “it will just be a pile of weeds” and “they just want free labour to beautify the town”. But I had seen the community gardens in Houston, Smithers and Hazelton, BC and I knew it could be done. I was inspired by the level of engagement and progress those communities had achieved under Literacy mandates.
Our Community Literacy Task Group resolved not just to learn to grow food as we already had lots of skilled gardeners. We also wanted to grow food together to learn about building our community and to support local food sources.
Our project was launched in 2011 with the “Cultivating Community Conference”. Jovanka from Prince George and Ursula from Jasper shared slide presentations featuring their experiences in setting up successful community garden projects. Their enthusiasm was contagious. A variety of hands-on workshops presented by local experts demonstrated that we are all teachers and we are all learners. Community engagement in planning the garden was evident as participants identified possible locations for the garden on a map of McBride. It was displayed with an “ideas tree”, a bare branch that they could attach leaves displaying their suggestions for a proposed garden. The day was filled with networking between experienced gardeners and newbies eager to learn. The response to the day’s offerings was overwhelmingly positive.
A core group of committed gardeners sprouted from that conference and we worked together over the next two years to establish the Open Gate Garden in McBride, BC. Like a hardy perennial our garden needed fertile soil to flourish. Using the principles of community development we accessed funds, secured a location, collaborated with supportive community groups, agreed upon a design and met regularly to build healthy working relationships.
We embrace the value of inclusion. Even though we must close the gate to keep the deer out, we decided to name the space the Open Gate Garden. We insist that it is a public space for the whole community to enjoy; a third space that is free and accessible, separate from home and work. A comment I often hear is, “I can’t believe who you have got working in that garden. I have never seen her involved in the community before.”
The diversity in our group of gardeners and friends of the Open Gate Garden continues to characterize the project. Master gardener Pete Amyoony generously plants two “help yourself” beds. It is common to see the most marginalized members of our community, guys who survive in the bush with very few creature comforts, come by the garden on their weekly trips to town. They fill plastic grocery bags with kale and parsley and carrots from the “help yourself” beds. We just ask that they leave some for others to enjoy.
Our gardeners reflect the rich biodiversity of each garden bed. There is much beauty to behold. Norma, aged 86, has dedicated herself to planting and watering twenty flower baskets that hang from the posts of the eight foot garden fence. She controls the pernicious weeds that grow between the paving stones with the non-toxic herbicide she made from dish soap, vinegar and salt. Her square foot gardening techniques produce most of the vegetables she eats from her 4’ x 8’ bed throughout the summer.
Garry and Wendy have a seed demonstration bed where they grow second year biennials like carrots and turnips. Last fall we harvested enough seed from that bed for the entire community. The bed closest to the garden shed is a sand box where children play while their parents are weeding and watering. And last summer in the Kids Food Camp children aged 6 to 12 years grew the largest radishes anyone had ever seen.
By 2016 the Open Gate Garden was well established. Our meetings are well attended. We get to know each other better by opening with a talking round inspired by an open ended question. My favourite is, “please share your earliest gardening experience.” Did you know most of us began with our grandparents? In addition, we share local food and exchange recipes. Deep listening and taking turns are skills that have been developed through these exercises.
Our agendas reflect the growing seasons. Recently our agenda was filled with plans for our fifth annual Seedy Saturday. Soon it will be assigning beds and spring work bees. When our meetings end it feels like each of us is blowing on a dandelion seed head. Seeds of ideas fill the room: potato growing social enterprise, Kids Food Camp, Mandala Art in the Garden, signage on Main Street, benches, hiring a coordinator, preparing and preserving garden harvests, local food blog. With so many possibilities for community gardening, the inevitable challenges seem easy to face. No one is in a rush to go home.
If you are driving through the Robson Valley this summer drop by the Open Gate Garden in McBride. The folks at the Visitors’ Info Centre will direct you. Bring a bag for salad greens. Sign the guest book in the shed. See for yourself how much we have learned through growing together.
Here are some of the resources that Nancy found helpful in this community garden project:
- Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block
- The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups by Starhawk
- The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-making – Second edition – by Sam Kaner et al. (borrow from Decoda)
- Tea You Can Trot a Mouse On: The Elements of Community-based Economic Development by Barbara J. Parker (borrow from Decoda or download from the link in the library record)
- Dig It: a Practical Toolkit: how local governments can support community gardens
- Groundbreakers website
- Kids Dig Food – lesson plans on food security and gardening
- Seed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People by Cindy Conner