community gardens in Calgary: Downtown Calgary

 Community Gardens Series 4.0:  The Downtown Calgary Urban Garden

Our fourth community garden series story is from the Downtown Calgary urban garden project located on 3rd Street on the Barclay Parade (between 5th and 6th avenue SW).

This past week, Downtown Calgary celebrated its community garden with their Harvest with Heart event. Reaping the rewards of what we consider to be the epitome of urban agriculture in Calgary, produce grown in this downtown core project was donated to the Calgary Food Bank and Drop-In Centre.

As one of the most centrally located Community Gardens in North America, the Downtown Community Garden is highly symbolic. The location gives great exposure to the general public and major corporations. More people walk past and see these gardens than all the other Community Gardens within Calgary!

Primary reasons to garden in this public space are to bring awareness to urban agriculture in Calgary by adding vitality to the downtown core, to engage with the general public and to give back to the community. After all, flowers are nice but produce is both beautiful and functional.

We spoke with Caralyn and Rachel from the Downtown Calgary Community Garden about some of their experiences with developing this gardening project in the heart of the city.

What has been your greatest success in the garden so far this summer?

In 2009, it was getting permission from the City of Calgary to let us transform existing flowerbeds into a community garden and the positive reception it garnered for the surrounding community. Workers became more engaged in their area and helped to

make it the success it is today. In 2011, despite the wet weather, over 30 bags/pounds of lettuce, carrots, and radishes plus chives, oregano, thyme and sage were harvested and donated to the Drop In Centre throughout the summer months.

Each year we try new produce and herbs to see what will grow in the shady areas. This year (2012) potatoes have grown really well and the awareness continues.

What has been your biggest challenge?

We always face challenges with the lack of sunlight on Barclay Parade.

What are you most looking forward to in the garden this summer?

The excitement it brings the community and the donation of the ‘Harvest with Heart’ to the Drop In Centre and the Calgary Food Bank.

The Harvest with Heart Event occurred on September 27th, with support from Downtown Calgary, the Drop In Centre and the Calgary Food Bank.  Passersby, children and local media all participated in the pulling of carrots, digging of potatoes and marvelling over urban asparagus!

How long has the Downtown Community Garden been in operation?

Inspired by the Calgary Downtown Association & The Calgary Food Policy Council, our first Community Garden was planted in 2009. At that time it was the first true urban community garden, as it was not located in a vacant lot near a high residential population but in repurposed flower planters surrounded by office towers.

In 2009, it was the 15th Community Garden in Calgary, in 2012 the Calgary Horticultural Society has over 130 in their database.

At this point in time we have 2 planters on Barclay Parade located between 6th Ave and 5 Ave SW, which are converted flower planters and cover over 2000 sq ft. In 2013 we are looking to expand the Downtown Community Garden network.

Are there any unusual features that the Downtown Community Garden has that your community is especially proud of?

The fact that we grow our harvest for those less fortunate and the unique location that brings great exposure. It also engages the office workers in the area to take pride in the area they work in. The first year when we had issues with getting the right amount

of water from the automated sprinkler system (set up for flowers), the corner coffee shop donated the water and all the street level retailers in the area helped to keep it watered and free of litter.

Although we were apprehensive about the potential for vandalism and theft, we were proven wrong by the robust and well-maintained gardens, courtesy of volunteers and local businesses.

After our first year, we have helped other businesses set up their own urban community gardens located on their traditional flower planters both at street level and on the +15 network. It is not only good for the environment, but also a great community builder for their staff and tenants. They are engaged from growing seedlings and planting, to maintaining and harvesting the gardens.

What are some of the practices that you require your gardeners to abide by (i.e. composting, water-use, organic, etc.)?

All seeds and plants were sourced from organic origins. We use untreated straw for mulch and discourage cigarette butts from landing in the garden with the use of signage asking the general public to respect our garden.

How have the gardens been received by your community-at-large?

The gardens have had a great reception this year, the local community has been very supportive. Many people stop to have their lunch beside the garden or just for quiet reflection. We have been approached by many individuals and businesses wanting to know how they can be involved and for further information.

And last but not least, how do you keep the rabbits out of the lettuce?

No issues so far with animals due to the deep urban environment. There are no natural predators in this location, therefore we don’t have the need for protective fencing.

Downtown Calgary thanks their partners The Calgary Food Policy Council, Sled Island, Harmonic Herbs, Caffé Artigiano and The Home Depot for making the Downtown Community Garden possible.

Downtown Calgary is always looking for volunteers to help with the gardens and for corporate partners that would have space available to start new gardens in the downtown core.  From rooftops, to +15 veggie patches in containers, Downtown Calgary can help any business get started with an urban gardening project.  Contact Shauna for more information.

Any ideas for gardening in an urban setting?  Leave a comment


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