By Arden Dier
With so much extra space in the parking lot behind Hillside Church on Commissioners Road East, Margaret Goodyear decided to put it to good use.
She looked at the blank stretch of asphalt and envisioned a community garden. Today, her vision has become a reality with several new plots built on the property.
The raised plots, rented to local residents, are designed for people to come together and learn about gardening as they grow their own produce. Hillside joins more than 20 community gardens already in the city.
“My husband and I just moved to London from Hamilton, and Hamilton has a huge boom in community gardening,” said Goodyear, wife of Hillside’s pastor Pernell Goodyear. “When I came here, I kind of looked around and they didn’t really have any community gardens within walking distance to this area.”
“I just thought, we have the space and if we can find the funding, we can do it.”
The church applied for and received two grants, for a total of about $5,000: the Fido-Evergreen Quick Start grant, and funding from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. Both are designed to help charitable organizations create greener, healthier communities.
With half of its funding, Hillside began work on the plots, which are set up in wooden frames atop the asphalt. Four double plots and eight single plots are in place so far, including one that’s wheelchair accessible.
The other half of the project’s funding has gone toward building materials for a shed – also wheelchair accessible – which will hold tools and other equipment and is being constructed by H.B. Beal Secondary School’s technology program.
“We wanted to incorporate other parts of the community,” said Goodyear. “They’ll be putting that in place at the beginning of June.”
Lori Vejvoda, a church elder at Hillside, supports the garden project and says she and her family will be helping out during the season.
“My husband has been helping build the (plot) boxes,” she said. “He’s a bit of an environmentalist.”
The plots are already two-thirds full, rented for $30 per season, $10 of which is refundable by helping with spring and fall cleanups. One bed has been set aside for the church’s pantry which acts like a food bank.
“If people access the food from the food pantry, they can come out during the growing season and get fresh fruits and vegetables, because that’s such a need with people who use food pantries,” said Goodyear. “You don’t get fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Maureen Temme, an avid gardener in the city, posted the news about Hillside to Community Gardens London, a website supporting food gardens.
Temme, who refers to her London property as “a garden with a house on top,” grows everything from squash and pears, to a variety of herbs. She says that in addition to being good places to meet and greet, community gardens can significantly reduce grocery bills.
“I spend $3 on a package of squash seeds and last year I harvested 22 squash. You can see that I’ve saved some money there and the last of that squash we ate around the middle of February,” she said.
Though she’s happy to see the number of community gardens growing in London, Temme thinks there could be a lot more.
“At a low-income housing development or even a townhouse complex, there’s very often open space and it’s only just planted with grass. That land doesn’t get used,” she said.
“I don’t think people are used to looking at land as potential food-producing gardens. I’m anticipating more people will in the coming years.”
Goodyear hopes that with a warm response this season, Hillside Church will be able to build more plots in the future.
For now, the focus is on constructing a compost box for church members and neighbours later this spring. The organic matter it decomposes will be used to fertilize the plant beds.
“We want to make this as friendly for the environment as possible,” Goodyear said.