On a lazy Wednesday night, a couple of volunteers from Seymour Green Organic Community Garden bring along plastic bags—there’s plenty of lettuce, perky and alert, ready to take home. The group chats, as some weed and others taste-test the produce. One volunteer crouches down to check beanstalks winding up a homemade wooden cage. A discussion about the fate of a transplanted boysenberry bush quickly turns to laughter. These guys actually make digging in the dirt look fun.
Scattered throughout our fair city are hidden slices of urban paradise. Tucked behind Dalhousie University’s administrative offices on Seymour Street, the Seymour Community Garden is a fresh breath of green leaves and stretching vines. Funded by the Nova Scotia Public Research Group, a tidy plot of broccoli, beans, onions, peas, tomatoes, zucchini, spinach, garlic, herbs, greens, wild berries and other plants are organically nurtured under the watchful eye of 10 volunteers.
“It’s definitely social,” says Kyla Milne, the garden’s coordinator. “But it also raises awareness. You don’t need a lot of experience, and it’s an opportunity to share gardening knowledge. If you’re new to gardening, it’s ideal because it’s a comfortable place to learn.”Community gardening is not the latest trendy craze to hit the city. Seymour Garden has been quietly sprouting since 1996. The North End Community Gardening Association, born in 1998, has three plots—at Murray Warrington Park (Brunswick and Gerrish), Prescott Street (near the Robie Connector) and Gorsebrook Gardens (off Wellington, beside SMU). At the Prescott, Murray Warrington and Gorsebrook gardens, NECGA members pay a $15 fee for an individual plot in one of the gardens, and voting privileges for all crucial decisions concerning its operations.
Seymour is a free communal space. In exchange for a share of the harvested produce, each volunteer signs up for a week of pests and weed control. Then there are communal soil turning, harvesting and weeding nights, plus workshops on composting and soil preparation. Hardly a raucous party, but for those who want to eat their carrots and know where they come from too, it’s a perfect alternative to the high prices and the questionable origins of store-bought produce.
For those in low-income situations such as students, or for those who live in garden-unfriendly spaces, it’s a cost-effective way to become part of the organic food production process. Therese Herbert, a Seymour volunteer who sadly gave up her garden when she moved to Halifax, isn’t sure she’s saving on the grocery bill quite yet. “It’s too early in the season to know,” she says. “But I didn’t buy salad-making vegetables yesterday.” This is Herbert’s first experience in a community garden and so far everything is coming up onions and cucumbers: “It’s been very smooth. These are very, very sweet people.”
As she speaks, volunteers pull weeds, trim borders and avoid the red ants (apparently ground cinnamon in your shoes keeps the biters at bay). The 10 square-metre garden is fairly self-contained; all the tools are housed in a straw bale shed beside the lot that resemblances a Fred Flintstone habitat. But the shed is to be replaced by a new straw bale structure designed by Dalhousie architecture professor Kim Thompson, two students from Dalhousie and any interested volunteers.
Milne hopes that by opening up their workshops to the public, it will encourage other people to beautify the city. In other urban centres such as Winnipeg and Toronto, guerilla gardeners have taken over unsightly rooftops, vacant lots and alleyways and transformed them into botanical oases. Although members of the Seymour group are not considered horticultural vigilantes—Dalhousie happily lends the green space—their efforts are changing Halifax’s landscape.
“If more and more places across the city are transformed and if more people know stuff like this exists, people will become inspired that it can be done,” says Milne. “If people know that there are health and environmental benefits—it’s a good thing for the city.”