rare's Springbank Community Garden

Springbank Community Garden is located on rare’s 900+ acre nature reserve in Cambridge Ontario and has more than 100 garden plots available to the community. In addition to individually rented plots they also have Demonstration, Education and Food Bank gardens. Thanks to the federal New Horizons for Seniors grant program, the Food Bank gardens have been made more accessible to senior volunteers by providing more ergonomic tools and proper transportation up to the garden. The Food Bank plots are called the Community Roots Food Bank Garden and have helped to create an even larger sense of community with volunteers from the Cambridge Self Help Food Bank, Conestoga College, local high schools and local church groups.

With roughly 300 square feet per garden plot there is more than enough space for each gardening family to grow a myriad of food items. There is everything from traditional tomatoes and peppers to arugula, rapine, brussels sprout and many more not-so-every-day vegetables. In addition to renting a plot there are lots of other things happening in and around the garden. School groups frequently visit the garden and the surrounding property is a hub for research on a variety of topics including salamanders, butterflies, forest soils and forest health. 

Plenty of dedicated people work or volunteer for rare. Dan Radoslav, Property Maintenance and Gardens Coordinator for rare’s Springbank Community Garden, is no exception. Siobhan Bonisteel Topping, our Blog Editor, had the opportunity to meet with Dan to discuss the community garden. During this interview Dan was busy doing some seed saving – dill seeds and beans. We found out from Dan that seeds are an integral part of gardening at rare, promoting the use of organic non-GMO seeds which are often comprised of heritage varieties. Many of these seeds grow into seedlings in the garden’s greenhouse and are brought along to rare’s Seed/Seedling Swap in the spring for gardeners to barter over using their own seeds or seedlings. 

Image: Springbank Plots, Amanda Newell, 2011

Much of Dan’s work is focused on the Education Garden. It consists of raised beds for square foot gardening where the focus is the education of children on the topic of local food, namely how you can grow it yourself. Dan explains that square foot gardening makes access easier for kids since they can reach across the garden. It also acts to highlight the benefits of small-space gardening. The method is focused on planting densely in raised beds to reduce soil compaction. When a bed is 4X4 you can easily reach across and have to never walk on the soil, while at the same time providing kids with hands on, easy to reach, experiences. 

At rare, gardeners are provided with mulch, compost and straw each season. Compost comes from last year’s garden waste and the region’s green bin program. There is also a give and take table where gardeners can share plants/seeds/pots and it also acts as a collection point for Food Bank donations. 

You don’t need to rent a plot to enjoy this glorious garden. People without plots are welcome to attend events and workshops, or go for a hike on the Butterfly Trail. An example of the many things happening at rare is the 5th annual 5 km family-friendly fun walk/run on September 28th to raise funds to support rare as they “create a Chain of Learning that extends science from researchers to the youngest of students with its goal to get Every Child Outdoors!” See the events calendar on the rare Charitable Research Reserve website for more information on the 5 Km walk/run and other events. 

In speaking to Dan Radoslav about rare’s community garden, this is just some of what he had to say: 

Siobhan (from the Roundtable): What are some of your main objectives with the rare community garden plots?

Dan: We are focused on creating as much community involvement as possible in every stage of the garden. We also focus on education and helping people to understand the benefits of community gardens and the benefits of local, fresh food. We are also trying to get more new Canadians involved – since we want rare to be as welcoming to everyone as possible. For new Canadians it can be a challenge to get into the community and we want to help with that process. We are also focused on our 6 part garden series program where we teach gardening and food skills. 

Siobhan: How do community plots work to address climate change issues and support sustainable communities?

Dan: They reduce reliance on outside sources of food – becoming more sustainable means shrinking or eliminating food deserts, areas that consume only and don’t produce, like a big city. These cities put stress on areas that produce food. You create food security by having local food sources and by having people with the skill that can grow it – which to me is the most important part. The more people with food skills, the closer we are to sustainability. Community gardens don’t have to be as big as rare’s, there can be multiple small projects around cities and the more of those the better for sustainability. 

Siobhan: In your opinion, what is the value of community gardens?

Dan: I think the value of community gardens is not only letting people who don’t have the space on their property garden, but also having the ability to garden with other people. In your home garden it is confined to your space, and there is not a lot of interacting. Here you get to share your food, get tips from other gardeners or maybe just try varieties of fresh food you’ve never tried before. You also learn organic gardening techniques and the value of growing food in a way that does not disturb the land. Community gardens also reduce fossil fuel used in shipping and help us create alternatives to large-scale industrial methods. Large scale is intensive on resources – overworking the soil with too much synthetic fertilizer and pesticides which are bad for the environment. Large scale is also detrimental since it employs methods such as mono-cropping whereas organic small scale gardens use companion planting and have greater diversity. Diversity of species helps with natural pest controls. Diversity in plants creates diversity in insects and makes for a healthier system. Diversity in food also creates healthier people. There is also sustainability with multiple crops; if one fails there is still food to feed the people. Diversity happens all down the line in organic gardening and creates resilience. Diversity in people is also an important part of community gardens.

Visit the rare Charitable Research Reserve website to learn more about the Springbank Community Garden.

Images: Amanda Newell, 2011 & Bob Burtt, 2013. 

This blog was originally posted on the Waterloo Region Food System Round Table website

By: Siobhan Bonisteel Topping