Left the Bishops thank supporters and staff. TIM TOFFLEMIRE Special to the Echo

Sink your trowel into one of Haliburton County’s community gardens

By Jenn Watt

For several years now a small group of gardeners have come together in Eagle Lake to tend to a communal garden on property owned by the Eagle Lake Community Church. The soil is a bit sandy and watering has been a challenge but they have persisted over the years building up the site.

The goal says church pastor Garry Swagerman is to one day grow enough vegetables to have a portion go to the food bank or to families in need. But for now those who tend to the land take home what they grow.

“We need more people to help us with it” Swagerman said. There is no fee and no expectation that gardeners will be affiliated with the church.

“Anybody that wants to start or try or experie nce what gardening is like it’s a great opportunity” he said.

The Eagle Lake Community Garden is one of eight across the county each with its own purpose structure and culture. The Victoria Street garden in Haliburton expanded this year but still has a waiting list of prospective gardeners. Others like the Eagle Lake site are in need of help.

Kate Hall public health food worker with the local health unit is working to increase awareness of the gardening opportunities in the Haliburton Highlands.

“When I came on board it seemed like there were some gardens and some folks that were interested in the gardens but not all the gardens were really flourishing” she said.

Some have issues of soil quality others of fencing to keep animals out. Sometimes gardeners have had to find solutions to lack of water or other infrastructure. But all of these obstacles can be overcome with enough participation.

“One of the common challenges also is membership” Hall said. She’s now working to get the word out that there are garden spaces available where community members can grow their own food and connect with others sharing information and enjoying being outside.

Space is currently available in Eagle Lake Gooderham Wilberforce and Highland Grove. Where there’s interest in creating a new garden Hall is also willing to help establish one. For example staff at the Haliburton Highlands Museum has expressed interest in hosting a garden but would need volunteers to join in.

In some cases community gardens have individual plots for each gardener. Sometimes the garden is just one swath of land with everyone pitching in. Some gardeners grow produce for specific needs such as hot peppers for the Heat Bank’s annual fundraiser. Other times the food grown belongs to the person who planted the seeds.

Hall said she’s able to match gardeners up with the type of project they’re interested in. There’s also a need for “friends” of a garden – those who might want to help temporarily with something like erecting a fence or repairing beds.

Nancy McLuskey has been an active member of the gardening team in Eagle Lake since the project was founded several years ago.

She said the group constructed a water shed to collect rainwater as there’s no well or power on the property. The land is sunny all day and is fenced around the garden to prevent animals from getting in.

“The garden is quite large but mostly undeveloped. To date we have only tilled and fenced what we can handle. More manpower would be required to reach the full potential of this garden” she said via email.

“We would be very happy to welcome more individuals to the garden either tending their own plot or joining our cooperative effort. The best way to reach us is through the email of Eagle Lake church: elcc2605@gmail.com.”

Hall said participating in community gardening offers a list of benefits.

“It gets you outside and interacting with the earth and knowing where your food comes from. I think there’s a really great sense of satisfaction – I certainly feel that as a gardener going out every night and picking my salad for dinner. It feels so good and it tastes so good. It’s so fresh. It’s full of life energy. We need to be more mindful about where our food comes from and if there’s an opportunity for us to grow some of our own food then that’s great” she said.

“The Community Garden Network does put you in touch with other people too. You can garden together. There’s that social aspect to it as well and sharing information.”

To find out more get in touch with Kate Hall: 1-866-888-4577 ext. 3246 or khall@hkpr.on.ca.