Above: Morinville Centennial Community Gardens’ new President, Doug Neuman, stands among the rental plots at the society’s Champlain Park location. – Stephen Dafoe Photo
by Stephen Dafoe
The Morinville Centennial Community Gardens (MCCG) will continue into the 2024 gardening season after several volunteers have stepped up to lead the organization, preventing the non-profit’s dissolution and disbursement of funds.
With the non-profit’s executive down to three people and the Gardens’ President Johanna Silver stepping down, the group had two people left on the executive, too few to continue under the province’s societies act.
Members were informed of the group’s situation in an Oct. 30 email. Long-time member and past executive member Doug Neuman decided to step up and offer his services as president at the Nov. 20 meeting.
“When I saw the email that said we might have to dissolve the Gardens Society, I thought, ‘Well, if there is a time to step up, probably now is the time to step up,'” Neuman said.
He was not alone in stepping up to keep the Gardens going. The new leadership roster fills all positions, which the group has struggled with recently. Joining Neuman are existing executive members Linda Mondor as Vice President and Paula Collins as Treasurer. The secretary for the group is Christine Wengrzynski, and Michelle Rheubottom will serve as Registrar. Directors-at-large are Becky McNeil and Val Loseth, the latter of whom started the organization in 2011.
“I think it speaks to the passion that our members have for gardening,” Neuman said of the increase in executive. “We have this valuable service that we provide to the community, and I think it’s easy for people to get apathetic and get wrapped up in their own lives. But when there’s that threat of, ‘Hey! This thing might not be here if you don’t step up,’ then I think that galvanizes a lot of that support and a lot of that volunteer hours.”
Back to their roots
As president, Neuman hopes to take the MCCG back to its roots figuratively and literally. In an email to the membership on Sunday, Nov. 26, Neuman outlined his thoughts, echoing those he expressed when he was acclaimed into the role.
“I think we have taken on too much work for the number of volunteer hours we can realistically muster, leaving members of the executive spread very thin,” Neuman wrote to the members. “I would like to see our group get back to basics and focus first and foremost on our mission statement.”
That statement: “Morinville Centennial Community Gardens will provide rental plots in an inclusive and accessible organic garden in Morinville and promote organic gardening,” is something Neuman sees as the group’s primary focus.
As such, the president recommends consolidating efforts to a single garden site in Champlain Park, eliminating the food bank garden in favour of more rental plots or grass and trees, working with the town on some path improvements, and running meetings quickly and efficiently.
“What we’ve seen over the past couple of years is we’ve had a strong focus on that public space side of things and doing all the community events,” Neuman said. “Personally, as a gardener, that’s less of what I’m interested in. I really like the idea that we can provide these low-cost rental plots to people and give people the opportunity to grow in the garden.”
Neuman said that he has observed minimal volunteer support in activities and initiatives outside the core mission statement over his years in the organization.
The president said he believes there is absolutely a place for supporting the food bank. “We should encourage gardeners to grow a row for the food bank,” he said, noting that planting, weeding, harvesting and sorting food for the food bank is not the most effective use of the organization’s time. “I think it is something that is not sustainable, and I think that is evidenced by the situation in the fall where there were so few people to take on the work that the society might dissolve.”
By focusing on the group’s mandate and getting that right, the president said there would be opportunities to build from that foundation.
“At this point, given where we were a month ago, I think it is important that we take a realistic look at what we can muster in terms of volunteer hours and plan accordingly,” he said.
There was mixed reaction to the ideas at the Nov. 20 meeting, and Neuman and the executive will discuss the new ideas and other topics at upcoming meetings. The president points out that decisions will be made by the group as a whole rather than by any individual members.
The MCCG’s next meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Rendez-Vous Centre in Morinville. Meetings are open to all members and those interested in becoming a member.
“We’re always happy to have new faces and new energy,” Neuman said. “I think through this, we’ve heard from a lot of people that feel this is a valuable part of our community.”
Public garden area at Champlain Park. – Stephen Dafoe Photo