You can see it from the road, a massive community garden on the same property as St. Peter Catholic Elementary School on Westwood Road. For almost two years now, community members in the Westwood and Willow area in the west end have developed a well-used and well-loved facility to fight food insecurity in this area of Guelph, and again their hard work is being recognized.
On Thursday evening at 6 pm, there will be a presentation for the $35,000 Healthy Communities grant from Community Foundations of Canada to the West Village Community Development Co-operative, which is simply known as the West Village Co-op. The Village Garden Co-op was chosen by the South Western Ontario Regional hub review committee as a good example of a project that finds solutions to challenges created by COVID-19 and that also help build future sustainability.
The money will help support the garden and those who use it, according to one of the garden’s volunteers. Families with limited economic means are sometimes hesitant to get involved with making a garden because they’re not sure if they can afford to get nothing out of it.
“Families have shared that gardening is a risk”, says Ralf Mesenbrink, volunteer garden co-ordinator and West Village board member, he’s also running as a candidate for Upper Grand School Board Trustee. “When a family has a limited income, taking money away from weekly groceries to spend on seedlings is a Risk that families can’t take, a risk the plants won’t grow into produce the family will eat or will improve household food security.”
But it does seem that the Village Garden has enjoyed success. According to a media release, the half-acre garden is currently servicing 70 families and 208 adults and children growing of asparagus, raspberries, strawberries, haskaps, blueberries, rhubarb, and Jerusalem artichokes, as well as a shared communal herb garden.
This is another award for the Village Garden, which, back in July, received a Greener Greenspace Award from the Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care [SOUL]. That awards recognizes exemplary greenspace stewardship for projects that are built on the idea of ecologically-focused land care including biodiversity, plant and soil health, and minimal impacts on waste and energy systems.
“This space was transformed into a community garden with 56 plots in three weeks,” said Linda Busuttil, a long-time volunteer with the West Village Co-op now city council candidate, last summer. At the time, in late-July 2021, 52 families and 171 adults and children were using the garden, and the West Village Co-op was already planning an expansion after two months in proverbial business.
“People saw us working and came down from their apartment buildings, or stopped while walking by, they asked us what we were doing, asked us if they could help, and asked if they could please have some space to grow vegetables,” Busuttil added.
The garden has a total budget of about $180,000, including a $3,000 grant from the City of Guelph 2022 Wellbeing program. Other funding comes from program revenue, other grants and donations. The presentation will take place at the community garden next to St. Peter’s school on Westwood Road.