As flowers begin to bloom around the city, many of us feel the urge to get down and dirty in our gardens. If you like to garden, but live in the city and think you can’t do it, think again.
The North End Community Gardening Association, formed in 1999, is a non-profit organization that strives to increase opportunities for urban agriculture in the Halifax.
“We provide that crucial link between agriculture and urban people,” says David McCall, project coordinator for the NECGA.
There are at least five community gardens in Halifax, three in Dartmouth and two in
Spryfield, McCall says. In Halifax, the NECGA runs the North End, Prescott and Gorsebrook community gardens.
This summer, McCall hopes the NECGA will be able to start a new community garden in Fairview, if they apply for and receive adequate funding. The garden would be located near several new apartment complexes, to give these residents the opportunity to garden outdoors.
When asked how he got involved in community gardening, McCall says humbly, “I’m just a gardener.”
But he has more than a green thumb—he strongly believes in the importance of eating locally grown, organic foods.
“The distances our food travels are much too high and completely unnecessary. Urban
agriculture acts as a really good supplement to local farmers,” McCall says.
And he practices what he preaches. McCall currently lives in a two-bedroom apartment so that he can use the second bedroom as a grow room. He uses two six-foot fluorescent grow lights to have a garden in winter—inside his apartment. McCall also enjoys working in community gardens, and has two plots himself.
Community gardens in Halifax began with a handful of “guerrilla gardeners’”—people who gardened on the sly, using land they didn’t own. A handful of these gardeners used land in the north end where an old Sobeys store once sat, but the land changed ownership and the gardeners were left high and dry.
In 1998, the city approved construction of the North End Community Garden in Murray Warrington Park. Community gardens are on public lands, most often parklands. HRM has formally recognized the importance of community gardens and supports them by allowing gardens to exist on public land.
Working in a community garden provides exercise, fresh air and neighbourhood friendships. McCall says it also offers excellent opportunities for learning and outreach.
“There is passive education just by gardening alone because there is quite a mix of experience and people will just pass on a tip to someone…but we also do active workshops at the gardens, like how to save your seeds,” he says.
Gardening can be therapeutic, too. Children from the IWK Health Centre have a plot, and so do patients from the transitional care unit at the QE2.
When you picture a typical garden, traditional images of tomatoes, peas and carrots
spring to mind. However, McCall takes his urban gardening beyond the norm.
“We grow everything!” McCall says, “from flax, kamut and oats to zucchini and potatoes. So what will McCall grow in his plot this year?
“I’ll probably try corn again, but it’s a hard one because it needs lots of nitrogen and attracts a lot of pests, so you really have to watch it, but I’ll try.”
McCall has to consider what he grew last year, since organic gardens require crop rotation to keep the soil healthy. NECGA’s gardens don’t allow any pesticides or fertilizers. Gardeners use compost to add nutrients to the soil and try to choose their crops wisely so as to minimize pests.
Twenty dollars to the NECGA gets you the seeds, a 64-square-foot plot, gardening guidelines and water. In Nova Scotia, most planting doesn’t happen until June, but McCall hopes to start sprouting seeds this month.
McCall is bracing himself for another busy season. The Gorsebrook and Prescott gardens are booming and more plots are built each year to meet growing demand. McCall says the NECGA will host a ground-turning event at the end of April to mark the beginning of the growing season.
To find gardens in your area, check the NECGA website at http://necga.chebucto.org.