When we moved to the Island last year, I discovered my sister had helped to spark an awesome project through her volunteer work with the Young Professionals of Nanaimo, a community garden on Turner Road in Nanaimo. I felt like shining some light on their project, which is still ‘growing strong’ after four growing seasons, because I think we can all be inspired by the ability to tackle something — even if it’s unfamiliar to us — because we know it would be great for the community.
So I spoke to my sister, Jenn Bogwald, about the community garden and its future in Nanaimo.
Why did the Ypn start a community garden? what was the inspiration?
We wanted to turn an ugly piece of property – a vacant gas station – into something beautiful that could be used by the community. We set set up a lease on the property, we researched about what we could and couldn’t do on the land (because it was a brownfeild site, we had to build boxes up out of the ground with fresh soil). Thanks to support from the community, and a lot of volunteer hours (including those from YPN members) within 6 months we had 30 beds growing fresh food — 15 beds grown solely to donate to the food bank.
Why does Nanaimo need community gardens?
I think people need to get excited about growing their own food — especially as food gets more and more expensive. Our garden has become an awesome place for all levels of experience to learn a little more about gardening, and have a bit of fun!. For instance, when we started, I didn’t know much at all about gardening (I’m a partner at an accounting firm, MNP) but I was inspired by our project’s mission to give back to the community — not only a beautified space, but healthful food grown locally for those in need. I also love how it’s really been a community building project — we have retirees coming out and sharing their knowledge with young people. It’s a very valuable learning opportunity for everyone involved. And, it’s FREE to volunteer.
What is your biggest challenge / barriers to your project success?
Our biggest challenge is also our biggest asset — everything is done by volunteers — which is sometimes a huge challenge to manage. I lead the Turner Road Garden and Andre Sullivan heads up our North Garden. Both sites are always open to drop-in volunteers to work on the 15 designated food-bank beds. People can also sign up for their own plot for just $30/year.
Our intention was to build it and pass it along to the community groups that already exist for community gardens in Nanaimo. A surprise challenge for us was when we started to learn about all the community gardening groups in Naniamo, but quickly realized, they all work independently, and had no interest in changing this. Nanaimo Community Gardens have really helped us get off the ground but there are many more gardening groups in Nanaimo all working independently.
We’re looking at this now more from a strategic business perspective and building the case for collaboration. Why not have one overarching organization managing all these gardens? Then they could hire a couple of communal staff members to serve all the gardens and if they all worked together, it would be a much easier task. So, we’ve started the conversation with many of them to help them see they could be stronger together and as a result, this has become a bit of a secondary goal of this project, to bring some of these groups together — which is most certainly a huge challenge as they’re all competing for the same (small pool) of funding.
What are the long term plans for your project? What do you need from the community to continue to ensure its success?
Long term, I’d love for Nanaimo to have a bunch of community gardens all over the city and I’d personally love for Nanaimo Community Gardens to take on our next lease to bring the Turner garden under their umbrella. We purposefully call it the “Turner Road Garden” — Not the YPN garden because the garden is run by the volunteers and not necessarily the YPN (though it is funding the garden for the time being). I see it as a natural fit for these garden groups to provide food for the community and continue to educate the public.
How can people find out more? What can people do to help?
Specifically? Sign up for a plot! I have a hard time recruiting people as, of course, the beginning of the growing season is my busiest time of year at work (tax season) but people can sign up any time. A personal plot is just $30/year +3 hrs/year volunteering for the food bank beds (or $45 /yr without a volunteer commitment).
If you want to help out, or lease a plot, you can connect with Jenn at [email protected]