By Andrea Prazmowski –
After years of searching, a community garden is finally putting down roots in Mechanicsville, thanks to the combined efforts of several organizations and a team of volunteers – and the rain, sunshine and good soil too.
The Mechanicsville Innovation Gardens officially began last year when the Innovation Centre at Bayview offered their raised garden beds to the Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) for a community garden. The dream, however, has been waiting to germinate for years. Sixteen years ago there were garden plots on Carruthers Street, but that land was sold and the gardeners no longer had access. Since then, a number of alternate sites were identified, but soil tests revealed that the contaminant levels were too high for growing food.
When the Innovation Centre was created in 2016, the plans included raised beds on the north side of the building, which were envisioned as community gardens. These were offered to Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC), who approached the Mechanicsville Community Association, and a volunteer committee got up and running over the winter.
At the garden this spring, bright salad greens and peas and other vegetables have emerged to seek the sun. Volunteers have also set down pathways and planted rows and rows of seeds and seedlings – including potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and much more. The volunteers have shared in all the work, and all the harvest will also be shared.
“This is a bit unique,” explains Dayna McInnis of SWCHC. “Most community gardens are plot-based, where everyone gets their own space. We collectively agreed to all plant as a group and anyone can harvest from any part of the garden.”
It’s a continuation of the spirit of collaboration that has supported the project. The Innovation Centre provided the garden beds, a shed, and wood for the pathways; SWCHC staff serve in a coordinating role and provided seeds; Mechanicsville Community Association volunteers planned out the gardens and started seeds at home; the Parkdale Food Centre donated tools, and funding came from the Community Development Framework of the City of Ottawa and Just Food.
Marc Duclos lives a short walk from the new gardens and is one of the lead volunteers on the project. His vision for the gardens is that “we get the community involved in growing food and we’re able to give away some of the food” to the Parkdale Food Centre.
The Mechanicsville neighbourhood is considered a “food desert” where it is hard to find healthy affordable food year round, and is not served by a major grocery store. SWCHC coordinates the Market Mobile which sells affordable fresh fruits and vegetables at Laroche Park once a week. Dayna explains that the vision of the garden project is that people will be able to grow fresh produce for their own use and that “we will see people coming out and participating, to help the community as a whole.” They hope community members of all ages will be involved.
The priority now is to welcome new volunteers to the garden. There is committee and communications work as well as watering, weeding and reaping the benefits in the form of “fresh from the garden” vegetables. To get involved, contact Dayna McInnis at the Somerset West Community Health Centre by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 613-238-8210, ext. 2382.