The notion of establishing a community garden in Outlook all started with just a seed of an idea, as most proposals do.
However, thanks to the dedication and foresight of volunteers, it wasn’t all that long before that seed sprouted into a vibrant, sprawling, nutrient-rich plot of land located at 311 Selkirk Street; a site generously offered up by local resident Barrie Spigott.
On Tuesday, July 21, a few people who have been instrumental in the success of the community garden such as Garth Weiterman (agrologist, water & soils specialist, local farmer), Connie Achtymichuk (provincial vegetable crops specialist, CSIDC) and Ken Achtymichuk (research technician, CSIDC) hosted a ‘Walk in the Garden’ evening event that brought out a handful of the public to learn the brief history of the garden and see up close what sort of green and leafy bounty has sprung from the land.
Indeed, the space has realized all sorts of potential in its short history and has produced all sorts of, well, produce: 15 rows of corn, three varieties of tomatoes, sets of onions, 11 rows of carrots, some pepper plants, potatoes, and even tomatillos – salsa verde, anyone?
There are even a few veggies being grown together in a small group that utilize the companion planting method, otherwise known as a ‘Three Sisters’ crop: corn, squash, and beans. The Three Sisters are known as the three main agricultural crops of various indigenous groups in the Americas: winter squash, maize (corn), and climbing beans (typically tepary beans or common beans). Originating in Mesoamerica, these three crops were carried northward, up the river valleys over generations, far afield to the Mandan and Iroquois who, among others, used these "Three Sisters" for food and trade.
The corn on this three-feature crop will probably be ready by mid-August, Connie said, with the beans following within the month, while the squash should be ready by probably mid-September.
The garden is also irrigated, which certainly helps when it gets to be a rather dry summer with not as much rainfall as most would probably prefer. Utilizing a unique drip system and with water being supplied by Dale and Jan Eliason of the neighboring property (along with a water meter to know how much is being used), Ken Achtymichuk demonstrated how the water is being fed to the garden and touched on the benefits of the setup being used.
“I think this type is quite a simple and effective system,” said Ken. “The next step in this evolution was a timer, because no matter what you have for irrigation, you still have to come and turn the water on and off. So we purchased a timer and it gives you the ability to program when you want to water and when it starts and stops, and it makes for a little less maintenance and a little less time having to be spent here. The drip system, or a soaker system, do lend themselves to a timer because you can lay everything out and it stays in one place and it doesn’t matter if the wind is blowing. It’s broken up into four zones partially because of the delivery system that we had.”
When it comes to harvesting the garden, that’s where the community reaps the reward. After the garden’s debut year in 2019, some of the numbers helped spell prosperity for places such as the Outlook & District Food Bank: 72 dozen ears of corn, 150 peppers, 145 pounds of carrots, and even 260 pounds of tomatoes.
“Our primary purpose is growing it for the food bank,” said Garth. “We’ve tried to get enough interest to give people their own individual plots and that’s another model of community gardening that could be done. At the moment, though, and with Covid going on, it’s much better to continue going the way we are. It was well accepted last year, so we’ll keep doing it that way.”
The local food bank may be the garden group’s primary target, but others have benefitted as well.
“The vast majority of it went to the food bank for distribution that way, but we also had Luther Place and Golden Acres that received some of it,” said Garth. “A little bit went to LCBI, too. It all depends on how it comes off and if it can match. We try to match up with the food bank our harvest the best we can, but it looks like this year, we’re going to be much earlier with some of our stuff than we were last year. It looks like we’re going to be ahead.”
Weiterman believes this year’s crop should be able to realize bigger potential after the garden’s first season last year, notably due to the methods being adopted to help foster growth.
“Because we’ve got more variety and done a slightly better job in terms of the density of planting of our carrots for example, I think our production should be that much better,” he said. “We’re also going to drip irrigation on all of it this year instead of a portion of it, and that adds a lot because it’s more efficient in terms of water use, and you get it wet where you need it.”
Folks at the garden will be harvesting all the way through the summer, and Garth hopes it’ll be wrapped up by the end of September. If the space can help give people a little variety in their diets and perhaps inspire them to lend a helping hand, then everyone’s happy.
“To give people a selection of foods in their basket so you can get a little bit of everything is healthy, and that’s what we’re trying to promote,” said Weiterman. “If we can gain more interest with people and get more volunteers and get out of this Covid, we’ll see what happens. This model right now is working for us.”
At the end of the day, the garden is a location that operates by a mindset of ‘For the community, By the community’.
“It’s a community effort and we’ve had numerous sponsorships,” said Garth. “We’ve borrowed all this fencing from Riverbend Co-op and the Home Hardware, for example. Outlook Rentals, we’ve had Lyle’s big rototiller to do some work, so there are all kinds of different things that are necessary. We tap a lot of people on the shoulder, and so far, nobody has turned around and slapped it.”
Outlook’s community garden has certainly seemed to flourish when it comes to crops and growth, but perhaps the deeper truth of the project is that it has also seemed to strengthen the bonds and ‘roots’ between the residents of this town.