The Kemptville Campus Community Garden is an allotment-style garden where members rent a plot to grow food for their household or organization. The project is a new partnership between Kemptville Campus and a volunteer group of gardeners. Starting from a field of grass last fall, they have created an abundance of organic food and flowers. In its first season, twenty-six members rented plots, including a daycare on campus.
A stroll through the garden during harvest season yielded an incredible list of not-just-peas-and-carrots crops. If you had walked up and down the rows of these 10-by-20-foot or 20-by-20-foot plots, you’d have found:
● okra - not one, but two gardeners planted this heat-loving veg.
● shiso - a leaf you can eat, tastes faintly of mint.
● daikon radish - happily, sensationally, out of control in size.
● purple-black heritage tomatoes - shazam, pure drama; tastes like tomatoes.
● amaranth - an ancient grain, a great success; grew four feet tall.
● free, nutritious, rampant joy - abundant especially at harvest.
Kathy-Ann Laman and John Knops are garden members who volunteered for the bylaw committee and site plan committee, and on a recent harvest day both were all smiles about the results of their hard work. They grew broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes and more, and on this particular day were contemplating how to tell their tall Brussels sprouts stalk to make more sprouts.
Leela Ramachandran walked over to look at the Brussels sprouts and suggested lopping some height off the top, allowing the plant to concentrate its energies into producing the sprouts the gardeners would eventually harvest and eat. They lopped it off and chalked up another educational moment in their summer community garden time. Both are keen to plan another plot for next year.
“Then there was Shawn Yakimovitch's garden,” Leela said as she nodded in the direction of an overgrown plot. “I’ve never seen such success with home grown watermelon! Usually, they end up the size of a baseball if you're lucky.”
When Shawn was later asked for the secret to growing the five large, sweet watermelons in his plot, he said, “Nothing! Utter neglect! I had the worst-looking garden and was hardly ever there.”
Amaranth wasn’t the only grain that these gardeners grew: one intrepid green thumb planted an ancient variety of wheat called emmer wheat, which Ramachandran says, “is a type with less gluten and more protein. This gardener was trying it as a pilot project, and you can see the stalks and how well they did. He planted it, harvested, and threshed it.”
While Ramachandran is particularly proud of the diversity of the food grown here this year, she says that she learned from those who introduced mainly flowers to the garden.
“There’s a couple who launched their own specialized project; they wanted to try flower farming - for cut flowers and centrepieces. And look at how beautiful they are.”
With the focus of the community garden initially being small-scale family or individual food production, Leela was surprised that someone wanted to concentrate on flowers. “But,” Leela said, “seeing the pollinators that are attracted, and the colour it brings to the community garden," she says she was won over. Next year, more flowers, more perennials, will be part of the plan.
In fact the lessons of this community garden just kept on coming: Leela points to a plot in which a gardener grew corn and squash, using an innovative watering technique, “which is actually a traditional Indigenous watering practice” says Leela, “and something that really worked, to share with other gardeners.”
The watering technique conserves water, is very low tech, with no pumps or plastic involved. In fact, it's two clay pots. This gardener glued two big clay pots together at the rim, with one inverted on top of the other. After plugging the hole at the bottom of the vessel, it was then buried in the soil in the middle of the crop. Water was poured into it through the top hole, and then began slowly seeping out through the porous clay walls of the vessel over time. “In the summer heat wave, this gardener didn't have to water much at all,” says Leela.
So many people planted, weeded, watered, tended, and harvested in this new plot of land, this new community gathering place, over the sultry evenings of this summer. The allotment was a lot of fun! Even the little kids at the daycare on campus got into it, learning to weed, collecting rocks, pulling garlic, and taste-testing the occasional tiny tomato.
“It's the best possible outcome that I could have hoped for,” Ramachandran says with a smile. “It's been really beautiful: people learned from each other, or improved their food production skills, but also people met and built friendships and relationships, and all of those outcomes were our goals.”
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Kemptville Campus is a place to gather, work, grow, play, and belong – for North Grenville and Eastern Ontario more broadly. Our mission as an education and community centre is built on three pillars: education and learning, health and wellness, and economic development, supported by an overarching theme of climate change resiliency. Find us online at https://www.kemptvillecampus.ca/
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