As Calgarians become more environmentally aware, community gardening and the practice of permaculture are making a comeback.
An age-old method, growing food “fell out of style about two generations ago,” according to Audrey Smith, a permaculture designer and food activist.
Smith is responsible for designing the garden in the Parkdale community of Calgary, and she recently created one for the West Mount Charter School, which is located in Parkdale and University Heights.
“It’s a practice that is growing hugely in the world,” said Smith. “(It is) a set of ethically based techniques [used] to design systems that reference nature.”
Smith, a teacher and artist, taught environmental sustainability in high schools in Alberta and said she became interested in permaculture because of the city’s lack of environmental awareness.
“People who lived here for thousands of years didn’t live on radishes. They knew how to harvest from the perennial foods that grew every year. They used sophisticated techniques, but basically [they] worked with nature,” said Smith.
After industrial advances turned the family garden into the farming business, many local garden products were no longer economic to grow.
But more recently, things have been changing.
The environment provides Calgary with growing conditions for a variety of fruits and vegetables, and many people are beginning to grow their own instead of buying them at the supermarket.
“There is a ton of growing opportunity,” said Smith.
“Blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, a bunch of apple trees, cherry trees, pear trees. You can even grow grapes here.”
The traditional model of a community garden involves the users having a membership, entitling them to a plot of land where they can grow the fruits and vegetables of their choice.
Smith’s Parkdale garden has 44 plots, as well as an area for fruit trees and bushes, and a herb circle that is available to the community.
These communities within foster an environment where people get to meet and share not only food, but also knowledge and techniques.
“Green care,” said Smith, “is a field of research that’s expanding. It looks at the benefits [of gardening] to people. There are actual benefits in our physiology, with contact to soil. It makes you happy.
“As a kid,” Smith remembered, “I’d be on my way [home] just anticipating going to the garden.
“You’d go by the open door and see the sun streaming in, and you could just anytime go in there, get a tomato, the whole experience was good. It was really magical.”
Smith found her love for growing her own food at a young age and believes that the community gardens should more closely resemble a park, where children and adults can mingle, learn and play.
“I think it would be beneficial for children to have access to a school community garden,” said Melanie Warner, an avid rock climber and gardening enthusiast.
“Not only is it an interesting hands-on science lesson, but it could provide students easy access to healthier snack alternatives.”
Smith’s newest garden, at the West Mount Charter School, is designed as an “outdoor playground,” she said.
There is a ton of growing opportunity, Blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, a bunch of apple trees, cherry trees, pear trees. You can even grow grapes here. – Audrey Smith
Getting children into gardening at a young age could be a solution in creating sustainability for future generations.
Noelle Sylvester, a kindergarten teacher in Calgary, said she also agrees with the idea of “creating” gardeners at a young age.
“Not only would it introduce them to the concept of growing your own food, and plant cycles, but also it would show them the value of food.
“It could help those stubborn kids who don’t want to try vegetables have a different outlook because they grew it themselves,” said Sylvester.
As for anyone looking to learn more, or begin growing, Smith offered some advice.
“There are so many entry points,” she said. “Study permaculture, start with a garden plot, do workshops, buy food from local farmers.
“Acknowledge that locally grown food is good food.”