Community gardens to expand in 2012

Morinville Centennial Community Gardens founder, Valerie Loseth, rests on the Champlain Heights Park sign last fall after receiving word the park might be the location for the next phase of the sustainable garden initiative. Loseth received official word in early January the park would be made available to local gardeners this spring. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – An unused park in Morinville’s southwest will soon be converted to another phase of the Morinville Centennial Community Gardens, providing local gardeners with almost 30,000 square feet of vegetable garden opportunities and recreational park space for all residents.

After a successful inaugural gardening season behind the Morinville United Church, the Town of Morinville has granted the Morinville Centennial Community Gardens the use of Champlain Heights Park, located across the road from the Sturgeon School Division offices, for the next phase of the sustainable gardening initiative.

“I’m just thrilled the Town has stepped forward with our Parks and Recreation Plan, and that they have seen the value of this garden,” said Morinville Centennial Community Gardens founder and spokesperson Valerie Loseth, adding she and her committee are pleased the Town of Morinville has allowed them to run with the program in another area of the community. “The garden’s mission is to promote urban and organic gardening and to make it a community event.”

This year will focus on approximately half of the existing park. Loseth explained the plan for the garden in 2012 is to have 16 plots, each 12-foot by 15-feet. The plots can be subdivided to 6-foot by 15-foot plots for those gardeners unable to tend a full garden plot. The garden enthusiast said nine of the 15 plots are already spoken for, and that each of the 180-square foot plots is capable of producing an abundance of produce. “With a 12- by 15-foot plot, you can grow a heck of a lot of stuff,” she said, adding gardeners using the plots for largely root vegetables have enough space to grow produce that can sustain them for a year.

But part of the sustainability lies in knowing just what to do with the produce once it is grown. Loseth said the Community Gardens Committee is planning to host some speakers who will be able to teach people how to can and preserve what they grow, a skill set that Loseth said is not that common today.

Another important element of the next phase of the project will be a special garden for the Morinville Food Bank Society. “My idea is to have it in a circle with out-branching pieces to look like a sun,” Loseth said. “Each branch would have a [different] vegetable. Community groups like Girl Guides could adopt that branch and look after that little portion of land with weeding and watering and harvesting, and then taking it to the food bank which is just a hop, skip and a jump up the road.”

More plans down the road

Future plans for other portions of Champlain Heights Park include transforming open space into a combination perennial garden and recreation area for Morinville residents. Loseth submitted detailed plans to the Town of Morinville outlining where a potential labyrinth would be placed as well as a giant chess board, picnic benches and fire pit; elements that would provide residents with a uniquely-designed park that was in keeping with the theme and purpose of the Community Gardens initiative.

Although Loseth and her fellow committee members are excited about the opportunities use of the new land presents them, they are not abandoning the United Church property that served them well during their first successful year. Loseth said some of the gardeners in the first phase will be moving to the new location, but the 10 raised beds behind the United Church are particularly ideal for seniors or those who have difficulty tending regular gardens. The additional 15 plots will bring the Morinville Centennial Community Gardens total to 25 plots in the community, and offer a good variety of gardening opportunities.

Town pleased to be taking part

Morinville’s Community Program Facilitator, Tyler Edworthy, said the 370-foot by 80-foot piece of land at Champlain Heights Park will still be owned by the Town of Morinville, but is being made available to the gardeners along with $10,000 in funding through Morinville’s Community Grant Program.

“We’re allowing the Community Gardens Committee to put up their garden and maintain it as well,” Edworthy said. “Anything they improve on the land, they’ll have to maintain as well.”

Additional community garden space was identified in the recently-adopted Recreation, Parks and Open Spaces Master Plan, and was one of the short-term goals of that plan. “This was actually identified in 2010 as a program,” Edworthy said, noting the Community Gardens Committee had done a solid job with their pilot program at the United Church. “It was a huge success. They are a very organized committee and very easy to work with.”

Edworthy said two locations were considered for the expansion of the program: Champlain Heights Park, located kitty-corner to the Ray McDonald Sport Centre, and Lift Station 1 on the eastern edge of Morinville. “They’re decommissioning that one and will be infilling it,” Edworthy said of the lift station located east of the storm pond, adding Champlain Heights Park was selected because the infilling of the lift station would delay the garden project until much later than hoped. “This one is going to be decommissioned this year. There’s going to be maintenance there. So realistically, we’d be looking at 2014 before the garden could actually be there.”

Edworthy said the focus in the first year at Champlain Heights Park will be getting water hook ups working, fencing and a sign installed, and a shed erected to store tools for the garden.

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