One of the many gardens that the Our Food Project supports is the Hilda’s Unity Garden Society (HUGS) garden in the Bayers Westwood community. The garden was started 4 years ago by a group of active residents interested in creating a space to grow food and community. The Bayers Westwood community is one of Halifax’s largest public housing units. Most residents live below the average income and have identified food insecurity as a common concern. Like many communities in the West-End, it is comprised of long-term Canadians and more recent immigrants to Canada.
For a number of years prior to the establishment of the HUGS garden, the Ecology Action Centre had provided food and gardening workshops to the Bayers Westwood Family Resource Centre (BWFRC) and its clients. Interest in food and gardening quickly spread, and residents banded together to seek out funding to build a garden on an adjacent property owned by the Housing Authority of Halifax. After some effective fundraising and community mobilization, the garden was born in 2010.
Twenty-four raised beds and some basic infrastructure were erected and residents quickly set about growing food in their community. Though the project was an impressive feat of community energy and organization, over the years its membership and maintenance waivered. Recognizing what an important asset the garden was to the community, the BWFRC stepped in last year to play a stewardship role for the garden, lending much needed institutional support and assistance to its members.
Being a long-time partner of BWFRC and the HUGS garden, the EAC food team also pledged to make rejuvenating the garden a primary focus of their ongoing work in the Bayers Westwood community. Both organizations recognized the important contributions the garden could make towards supplementing residents food budgets, providing synergies with the Centre’s ongoing food programming and building the resilience of the community.
With a late start last year, we cleared the brush from the unused beds, turned the soil, and invited residents to begin gardening again. We fostered relationships with Housing staff to assist where possible with maintenance, set up a consistent water source, and provided regular upkeep for the garden. As we move into this growing season we have big plans for the garden! We are actively building interest in the community to help to rejuvenate the garden and include as many residents as possible in this valuable community project.
With the support of the community and the BWFRC, the Our Food Project intends to refurbish and expand the current garden beds, to install a permanent fence, to provide a tool and supply shed, build accessible raised beds for seniors, build a compost, and a rain-water catchment system. Since last June, membership in the garden has increased from a sprinkling of 4-5 guerilla gardeners, to over 15 interested residents and their families. By first planting we expect all of the 24 beds to be filled.
The infrastructure we intend on building will help resident gardeners fully take advantage of this incredible growing space. At the same time, we are offering support and training to staff and residents in the community to develop the skills they need to run the garden in the future. We are looking for lots of volunteers this summer to help with workdays, events, general maintenance, sign making, youth engagement and many more projects. If you are interested in helping to develop the urban agriculture landscape in Halifax, and to help rejuvenate a garden and a community, don’t be shy to contact me for information on how to get involved.
Author: Will Hill. Community Food Programmer. Ecology Action Centre.