community gardens in Calgary: Sunnyside Shared

 Community Gardens Series 2.0:  Sunnyside Shared Community Garden

Our second community garden story comes from the new installment in the greenspace under the LRT bridge on Memorial Drive.  The Sunnyside Shared Community Garden is not your usual neighbourhood garden project — this group truly promotes the idea of “community” in how the gardens have been started and all of the activities involved with maintaining, planting and harvesting.

C-train, Memorial Drive.. now this is an inner city garden!

We talked to Jim, one of the gardeners that is part of the core group of people who worked on getting the plans in place, the permits from the City and building the initial four beds.

Tell us about the Sunnyside Garden and why you’ve gotten involved.

The Sunnyside Garden is a community based garden with an active membership of about 20.  We grow lettuce, beans, peas — anything that will grow. We also experiment with what doesn’t seem to grow so well. [Their tomato plants are doing incredibly well for Calgary and they even seem to be having some luck with tomatoes started from seed].  The garden is organic and pesticide free.  I like the principle of community gardens, I don’t get enough sun for my garden to grow vegetables.

Building the raised beds on a community work day.

As this is the first year for the Sunnyside Shared Community Garden, getting the approvals from the city, building the four raised beds and planted early enough has made for quite a successful start.  The original group that decided to pursue building a garden in that space met for “endless discussions” about the philosophy behind the garden and how to turn it into a truly shared space, rather than using the typical format of renting individual plots to local gardeners.  The group uses consensus decision-making processes to ensure that all voices involved are included in the discussions and decisions.

Their unique way of gardening as a group came out of those discussions as well as the commitment to donate half of their harvest to a charity in Calgary.  The gardeners are a core group of 6 – 8 people and then a dozen or so folks who are involved peripherally.  Many of the people involved with the garden are connected to other NGO groups in the city and one of the goals of the garden is to challenge the current “food supply paradigm” in Calgary.  An eclectic group of people, there are those interested in Calgary’s food politics, some who might consider themselves food activists and some, like Jim, who “just like to dig in the dirt and build things”.

City Parks has been quite supportive of the garden, encouraging the use of raised beds in order not to interfere with the existing irrigation system, and generously donating 13 cubic yards of soil to get the group started.  The gardens were officially approved during the second week in May, so the group had a lot of work to do to get everything built and planted in time to ensure a good harvest in our short Calgary growing season.  According to Jim, the process for getting the gardens approved was quite straightforward with the City. The application required buy-in from any of the affected neighbours and support from the people living next to the gardens has been great.

The community garden is organized such that everyone shares in the 4 raised beds that are currently in place.  The watering, weeding and general care of the gardens is divided up amongst the group and scheduled by day of the week.  Harvesting will be done communally (though how that will be accomplished hasn’t completely been determined yet) and the bounty shared amongst all participants.

A pallet-built compost system

While this year’s harvest and their donation of half to a local charity may be small, it’s important to remember that the Sunnyside Shared Community Garden is in its inaugural year and taking its first steps.  They have plenty of room to grow (the City has so far been open to the idea that the gardens could expand into most of that park’s area).  It’s a high visibility community garden and will hopefully inspire others to get involved.  If you want to get technical about it, “it’s a community, holistic, team effort embracing multi-disciplinary individual skills to leverage a non-traditional transitional synergy across strategic growth platforms”… in other words, this garden is about connecting people and embracing how community spirit can influence our food systems.

Jim says it best, it’s been “very well received by the  local neighbours and the community at large, everyone loves a garden!!”

To learn more about the Sunnyside Shared Community Garden, check out their website and contact the group at sunnysideshared@gmail.com.  While their first year’s membership has been restricted to 40 members (10 per bed) they do have room to expand and will be able to involve more people next season!

Have any of the community gardeners out there tried this type of shared gardening?  How does it compare to a more traditional community garden with individual plots? Leave us a comment!


3 comments on “community gardens in Calgary: Sunnyside Shared

  1. Those Sunnyside gardeners once again are bringing beauty and nutrition to our community, thank you for the blog, Garden On !

    • Thank you, Jim! I love how these gardens are so visible to the busy folks zipping by on memorial, riding over the bridge on the train and enjoying the river valley pathways! I think they will be very inspiring to the community at large.

  2. This garden was originally inspired by my son Mac. We live 7 doors away. It was called Sunnyside Up and was completely independent. Druh Farrell would not provide any support and the HSCA (Kerri Treherne) pulled a very heavy handed move to ensure that we could not receive insurance. The Bow to Bluff group also began to meddle in the affairs of the volunteer garden by altering our proposal to the City of Calgary without consent from the organizing group. It became a highly politicized garden due to its location and the incestuous and dysfunctional nature of Sunnyside politics. It should be Calgary’s premier community garden, instead it is almost hidden in the corner, unbeknownst to the 20,000 citizens who comprise the daily traffic on Memorial Drive.

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