"Growing Community" Garden
The “Growing Community” Garden is a cooperative project between UNBC, the Prince George Public Interest Research Group (PGPIRG) and the PG Christian Reformed Church. The project seeks to bring together diverse members of the Prince George community around shared values of local food production, sustainability and social justice (see the Vision Statement below for more information). These common interests form a basis to move beyond cultural barriers, helping people with different values and perspectives to find community and connectedness – a very ecological principle. In its first year, this project had broad support from the Gateway neighborhood, from local businesses, from local famers, from the city of Prince George and from the church. Most exciting to me, this project was strongly supported by volunteer undergraduate and graduate students representing 13 UNBC programs, including Biology, Environmental Engineering, Environmental Planning, Environmental Science, Forest Ecology and Management, Geography, History, Math, Northern Medical, Psychology, Resource Recreation and Tourism, Social Work and Fish/Wildlife. I was extremely proud of the participation of UNBC students, and inspired by their courage to move beyond their “comfort zones” and engage others that represented different cultural values and perspectives.
At the core, this project seeks to support the development of inherently ecological community values. We see “healthy communities” as places where people depend upon each other and work together across a range of local issues and concerns, where all community members are supported and empowered to live healthy, active lives (particularly the poor and underprivileged), and where local environments are used carefully and thoughtfully to support long-term sustainability. This vision began to emerge during discussions last winter between myself, members of the UNBC student-led PGPIRG and members of the PG Christian Reformed Church. The idea emerged to create a hub of cultural interaction and community building around values that would be broad enough to be shared by people from wide ranging backgrounds, lifestyles and perspectives. Local food production, environmental sustainability and social justice are values shared across the spectrum of cultural perspectives and they are values that are inherently connected. The Growing Community Garden is to be a place of gathering, working together and learning together to support and promote these core values.
Making It Happen!
In the beginning...
To realize the vision, an acre of unused land was donated for project use by the PG Christian Reformed Church, embedded in the Gateway neighborhood. It’s a prime spot for growing food, enjoying the enhanced microclimate of the Prince George “bowl” and easily accessible to the entire community. Funding to initiate the project in Spring 2010 was secured from UNBC, from the city of Prince George, and from the church. I was able to hire a graduate student (Rebecca Bruser) to work with me on the development of the project this summer. Becca was finishing up her MSc (Psychology), and had a deep interest and committment to the core values of this project. We worked closely on this project throughout the summer, and its success was in no small part due to her enthusiasm, creativity and determination.
Preparing the site
The site needed some work, and the church donated the bulk of the labour and equipment to get it prepared for the establishment of the first phase of the project: 12 raised bed gardens and some development to facilitate community gatherings.
Establishing the Gardens
The project has been a broad partnership from the beginning. All the work has been done by volunteers during three work parties that we had during the summer. Each of the work parties was attended by about 30 people, with at least half of those being UNBC students. PGPIRG has been a particularly strong partner from the beginning, and we have established paired research plots at the church site and at the PIRG site on the UNBC campus to examine questions about sustainable gardening in northern climates. To celebrate this success, the Growing Community Garden and PIRG are co-hosting a Harvest Feast at the church site in mid-September.
Inch by inch, and row by row...
In late May, we hosted a plant/bake sale to raise money for the project and to introduce ourselves to the community. This was an exciting day, and it was clear to me that people from across the community share a real interest in local food and sustainability. In addition to the sale, the day was given to celebration and getting the gardens planted.
Taking care of the garden
Work parties brought together volunteers to manage the garden, to eat from the garden and to get to know new people. Many commented that they greatly enjoyed working together and getting to know new people, and that the experience was personally strengthening to discover that we can associate with people that we have thought were “different” and find common ground to work side by side with them, even to become friends. The participation of UNBC students is this process has been a real inspiration to me.
Far and away, the highlight of this first year was the community building that took place among those participating in the project, and it is not possible to convey the many stories and surprises that happened this summer. What I learned above all is that across the entire spectrum of values and perspectives within our community, we share much in common. We are in fact very much alike in spite of our perceived differences. Creating a “space” where people can come together around shared values can be a powerful way to create community and break down stereotypes that we all have. What an experience!