Leslie Park Community Garden
By Melanie Epp
(Ottawa) – When Mark Howard first canvassed Ottawa’s Leslie Park Community to see if there was interest in a shared garden space, he had no idea just how much it would benefit local residents. The park, which has always been home to parents, their young children, and sports enthusiasts, has brought a new social group to the forefront, bringing the community even closer together.
Overwhelming interest led to the creation of the Leslie Park Community Garden, a space where for just $15 per season, gardeners can rent one (or more) of the 76 plots. This year there are some 55 gardeners participating in the program, sharing the park with recreational facilities, including a play structure, a hockey rink in winter and soccer fields.
“It’s cool,” says Howard. “What we’ve tapped into is a different social group. It’s much more diverse. We have 60-70 year old people – and we also have a grandfather who’s there with his grandchild who’s 12, all meeting and gardening.”
To participate, each gardener is asked to sign a contract for the season. They agree to volunteer for a total of four hours over the summer, most of which is spent watering the plots. The money they collect helps cover ongoing costs – maintenance, tools, rain barrels, and a garden shed. It has also covered the cost of fruit trees, berry bushes and shared community plots for herbs, garlic and asparagus.
Each plot is a 10-foot by three-foot raised bed. Gardeners can grow whatever they like in their plot, as long as they do so organically. Most growers plant tomatoes, beans, lettuce, carrots and onions, but some plant unique crops, like eggplant, says Howard.
“For the most part people are taking their own crops and bringing it home for their own personal use, but there is kind of an ‘impromptu sharing’ amongst the group,” he continues.
Besides providing food to individual gardeners, Leslie Park Community Garden helps local charities as well. During harvest, fresh food is donated to a local senior’s home, Harmer House. The group has also donated two plots to a nearby school. As part of their science curriculum, grade two and three children plant and tend a garden, choosing food – mostly radishes and greens – that can be harvested before the term ends.
As part of the Ottawa Community Garden Network, Leslie Park Community Garden has a number of social, environmental and cultural goals. Because they grow food, locally, organically and sustainably, they easily meet their environmental goals. But it’s their social and cultural goals that they really blew out of the park.
While Leslie Park had always served other social groups – parents with young children, sports enthusiasts – it hadn’t previously served a group so diverse, one that was into gardening and growing their own food. The garden brings the community together in ways they never thought possible. The gardeners come together, sharing knowledge and skills, learning how to treat for insects and diagnose other issues in plants.
“I think that’s a real benefit for the community as a whole… the tightening up of the group,” says Howard. “It’s a very different group from the other social groups that were there. And it’s something that just happened on its own – ‘organically,’ for lack of a better word. It really wasn’t my intention. I just wanted a garden.”
The group has moved beyond the garden and further into the community. Socially, they’re meeting two to three times over the summer to host potluck dinners. But they’re also joining other community organizations, says Howard.
“I see a cross-pollination of people who were in the garden, but are now involved in the community association and with the rink, people who would never have done that because they weren’t coming out before,” says Howard. “Now that they’re involved in one thing, they’re now involved in another. It brings us all closer together.”
Leslie Park Garden has been serving its community since November 2010, but it hopes to remain open indefinitely.