During the months of June, July and August of 2010, the Jasper Local Food Society piloted a Community Garden, a set of School Gardens, a Garden-Share Program and a weekly Local Farmers’ Market. The project followed on a set of community-consultations and discussions with local organisations including Municipal Council, the Lions Club, the Rotarians, and the Jasper Library. With endorsement from Municipal Council, and support from the local community, the pilot project proved very popular, for Jasperites and for summer visitors.
The Community Garden provided 23 small (8ft x 4ft) raised-bed garden plots with organic soil. JLFS members and friends built the frames, erected a deer fence and laid out the Garden on land behind the Jasper Library. The gardens were assigned on a first-come, first-in basis. A nominal membership fee of $20 was charged. The main stipulation was that gardeners use natural, organic techniques, without pesticides or herbicides. The plots were planted, and varieties of vegetables were harvested. The Community Garden was featured in the Jasper Library’s Secret Garden Tour and was visited by the adjudicators for the Communities in Bloom competition. Harvest was celebrated with a dinner made by the community gardeners from food they grew themselves.
The School Gardens were trialled at the Jasper Elementary School and École Desrochers, with classes Kindergarten to grade 6. They provided teachers with opportunities for hands-on lessons in botany, biology, arithmetic, and food security. Teachers from other schools and grades have since approached the JLFS to ask about plots for their own classes.
The Garden-Share Program brought together people who had gardens in their yards but were no longer able to garden themselves, with people who wanted garden space. The idea was to make sure that good garden soil was kept active and alive, and that people who loved gardens could share the love. One of the gardens was on land owned by the Lutheran Church. The wonderful garden was not being used, until one of our gardeners put in potatoes – and what a wonderful crop she harvested too!
The Local Farmers’ Market, with its ethic of “grow it, make it, or bake it” brought together vendors from Jasper and nearby food-growing areas (most within 150 miles of the park). Jasper residents and summer visitors were able to purchase a range of goods including seasonal fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs, eggs, breads and pastries, honey and handicrafts.
Networking & Local Support = Community-Building Success!
In general, the JLFS pilot project demonstrated the kind of networking and local support that underlies successful community-building initiatives. Jasper Municipal Council and employees provided the JLFS with in-kind support of soil and transport, and advice regarding permits and health requirements. Community members of all ages supported the pilot project with work bees, public presentations to Council, letters to the editor of the Fitzhugh, as managers and patrons of the Local Farmers’ Market. The partnership with the Jasper Library provided an ideal location that was mutually beneficial. Gardeners and visitors to the Garden enjoyed a central, easily accessed location, with a place to park bicycles, store garden tools, access water and toilets. It also provided Library patrons with a pleasant space for eating lunch. Likewise, the partnership with the Royal Canadian Legion provided the Local Farmers’ Market with outdoor space, indoor toilets, and tables for the vendors’ use, and brought greater local awareness of the Legion’s changing role in the community. Finally, in addition to the school program, the JLFS cooperated with the nascent Jasper Gardening Club to teach JLFS members who were new to gardening how to grow foods in Jasper’s short growing season, how to compost, and how to make compost tea. In short, the pilot project fulfilled the JLFS’s moto “Growing Community, One Garden at a Time”.
There were some challenges. Securing a location for the Community Gardens was delayed, and that meant a late start for planting. Organizing the Local Farmers’ Market required a great deal of volunteer time. Lack of start-up funds meant the project was financed initially from members’ personal accounts. Vendors who had not anticipated coming to Jasper at planting time did not have enough produce to satisfy the unexpected demand. Logistical arrangements for the Farmers’ Market require refinement.
Overall, JLFS considers the pilot project to have been a success. Jasperites who would not otherwise have had access to garden foods grew their own vegetables, salad, herbs, and even berries. We have raised awareness on the value of community gardening and growing our own food within Jasper; spin-off gardens and potential for more, local, community gardens are now part of the town’s discourse (which is good, since construction of the expanded library means our gardens have to be relocated). Food producers from outside the park who took the risk to bring their produce to the Local Farmers’ Market were pleased with the effort. They generally sold out long before the official close of market; consequently they have made a commitment to plant more for this coming summer. Jasperites have verbally expressed happiness at the quality of the produce and products available, local produce-based businesses have privately offered congratulations (and denied that the Local Farmer’s Market has impacted their summer business), and we received good media coverage from the Fitzhugh and on local businesses’ Facebook pages.
The success of the pilot project has convinced the members of the JLFS to carry on with a full season in 2011, with some important improvements, including expanding to 50 garden plots, and a more aesthetically attractive Farmers’ Market. The challenges before us include clarifying our Market licensing system, securing a permanent location for the Gardens, funding-raising, and expanding our volunteers’ base. Considering how successful we were at meeting our first years’ challenges, we are confident that 2011 will be a great year too.