Wingham Community Garden provides food for local food bank - Spring Home and Garden 2017
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BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The Wingham Community Garden and Orchard has come a long way from its humble roots in 2012 to now annually providing hundreds of pounds of food for the North Huron Food Share.
In recent years the project has grown to include a number of community partners, including the Maitland River Community Church, Libro Credit Union, the Wawanosh 4-H Life Skills Club, Trillium Mutual Insurance Company and the Huron County 4-H Leaders Association, not to mention the handful of volunteers who keep the garden well-maintained and growing season after season.
The garden started simply, however, when in 2012 Emily Beard, daughter of the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority’s Phil Beard, was seeking a project for her sustainable agriculture class at Sir Sandford Fleming College. She focused on creating a community garden in Wingham as part of the co-op project, using land adjacent to the Libro Credit Union, but owned by the Maitland River Community Church.
In an interview with The Citizen, Phil Beard says that the expansive patch of land wasn’t being used at the time. While the church had been considering turning it into a parking lot, the town’s former ball diamond was at the time sitting unused.
The problem with that land was that it was laced with stones due to its time as a ball diamond. So, after one year of work producing modest crops of eggplant, patty pan squash and blue tomatoes, Bill and Kathy Gibson were brought on to help with the project in 2013 and 2014.
Because the garden proved to be a learning process, the group continued experimenting during those years, growing different types of vegetables, including lettuce. However, much of the lettuce went to waste, as it had to be picked every day and the Food Share was only open one day per week.
In 2014, a number of trees were planted and the orchard portion of the garden began to take shape. Trees planted then included Asian pear, apricots, peaches, plums, chums (cherry-plum cross) and apples.
German student Hauke Reisenbichler, who is now back in Germany but plans to return, was the catalyst for the planting of the orchard. Many of the tree varieties were selected by Reisenbichler and now, after being planted several years ago, some of the trees are beginning to slowly but surely bear fruit.
The project continued to evolve and improve, because in 2015 Beard and those working on the garden made the shift to vegetables that kept well and didn’t need to be picked every day – moving closer to the needs of the Food Share. This meant the garden was growing vegetables like beets, potatoes, peas, beans and pole beans.
Problems persisted with the rocky nature of the garden and those working the soil had major problems with moisture retention, so in 2016 the Libro Credit Union, through the Wawanosh 4-H Life Skills Club partnered to fund the installation of raised beds at the garden that would make all the difference.
As a result of the 20 raised beds and a good year for weather, the garden yielded over 1,800 pounds of vegetables, in addition to two crops of watermelon, planted by the 4-H club.
Aside from the clear impact made by the garden yielding hundreds of pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit for the local Food Share, rare items for food banks that usually deal in canned and dried foods, Beard thinks the garden has done even more for the community and those who have spent time with their hands in the dirt.
With the introduction of the 4-H club members into the program, skills are being handed down from seasoned gardeners to the young people of the community. In addition, agriculture students from F.E. Madill Secondary School in Wingham are handling the garden’s transplants under the auspices of teacher Julie Baker.
The educational value of the garden has been immeasurable, Beard says. One of the first lessons came from nationally-renowned seed expert Kim Delaney of Hawthorn Farm near Palmerston. Beard says the garden uses only her seeds and she has also made a presentation to the club working on the garden.
“People don’t know how to grow their own food anymore,” Beard said. “Now people are all learning how to grow high-quality vegetables.”
He also points out that few people even keep small vegetable gardens any longer, opting instead for flowerbeds and decorative gardens.
The educational aspect of the garden has also presented an opportunity to explore new ideas as well. Beard said that last winter those working with the garden planted cover crops to help protect the soil, a relatively new tactic that is only beginning to be used extensively.
Beard says that while it’s still early in the process, planting the cover crops of oats and peas over the winter seems to have paid off.
The garden is expanding all the time, Beard says, to reach further and accomplish more.
The 4-H club planted a crop of strawberries, although they were eaten by birds. The club is now looking into netting for the bed so members can try to grow strawberries for a second time.
Beyond that, those working with the garden are growing plants that attract pollinators and installing wild bee hives to improve the natural pollination process.
The garden is located behind the Libro Credit Union and just south of the Maitland River Community Church in the north end of Wingham. Beard says those running the garden are always looking for more volunteers or eager beginners willing to learn.