U of S gardens build community one seed at a time

By in Culture

Community gardens provide fresh produce, opportunities to interact with the land and a chance to work with other people to create a community — and they’re growing like weeds at the University of Saskatchewan.

It came as a surprise to me that we have community gardens here on campus. Not only do we have one community garden, but we have four, each of which produces an abundance of food through the labors of many caring people.

The community gardens are run under the guidance of the U of S Office of Sustainability and the project coordinators are U of S students. Ranjan Datta is a graduate student at the School of Environment and Sustainability and Genesis Hevia is an undergraduate student in the College of Arts and Science. Both are avid gardeners in their personal lives and have been heavily involved in the campus gardens for many years.

The largest of the on-campus gardens is the McEown Community Garden, located adjacent to the McEown Park graduate student residence.

Jebunnessa Chapola, graduate student in women’s, gender and sexualities studies, is an advocate for the community gardens. Chapola showed me the McEown Community Garden, where her and her family have a plot. Coordinators Datta and Hevia were there as welI and I was generously gifted with a plethora of vegetables, including bunches of fresh mint, tomatoes and the largest zucchinis I had ever seen.

Chapola and Datta’s daughters are also involved in the gardens and their genuine joy as they shared their own plots prove this to be a great activity for families.

“Gardening is a great hobby and growing vegetable seeds into seedlings will give any vegetable gardener great satisfaction and pride to see tiny shoots spring from the soil,” Chapola said. “I’ve developed a sense of personal attachment to the garden that I could never have anticipated. I’ve been involved at the garden here for five years. This community garden connected my kids with Mother Earth and nature. I am super happy that they are growing with this garden.”

The McEown Community Garden is home to 60 garden plots in total, expanding yearly. Of the 60 total plots, 56 are kept by individuals, couples and families from over 14 different cultural backgrounds, all bringing their unique experience and knowledge to the garden and community. The remaining four plots are maintained by volunteers working together to donate mainly to the Saskatoon Food Bank.

One of the goals of these community gardens is the promotion of a healthy environment through sustainable garden practices. This includes water conservation, composting, avoiding pesticides and herbicides and focusing on planting native species. Judging by the beautiful produce I sampled, these practices are working.

The gardens aren’t just about produce though. Those involved also have the option of participating in global cultural awareness activities, such as art programs, blanket exercises with potlucks, trips to Wanuskewin Heritage Park and cross-cultural food sharing programs.

According to Datta, many of the gardeners at McEown got involved with the community garden because it is a unique opportunity offered on campus and keeps them connected them with their cultural heritage. The gardens also promote environmentally stable farming.

The gardening, from planting the first seeds all the way to the final harvest, lasts annually from May until September. During this time, one garden plot can provide continuous fresh produce to a family of four, as it does for Datta and his family. Many of the residents living in the graduate houses participate in the McEown garden and the strong sense of community is both noticeable and inspiring.

The U of S community gardens grow much more than just food — they are gardens of togetherness, passion, education and love. Before the end of the season, visit one and learn how to get involved! All it takes is one seed, and who knows? Maybe that seed could be you.

To learn more, stop by the Office of Sustainability at 110 Maintenance Road or check out their website at sustainability.usask.ca.