Donation helps garden grow

Tim Keller presents a cheque to food bank executive director Wes Clark Thursday. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

There’s something new brewing by the old Molson plant.

Plants of a different kind – the green variety, are sprouting in the Oasis Demonstration garden. Thanks to a $60,000 donation from the Co-op Community Spaces program, the garden will be able to grow larger faster.

The program supports recreation, environmental conservation and urban agriculture projects. This year $2 million dollars was distributed to 27 recipients in Western Canada, 10 of which were in Saskatchewan.

The garden will be used to educate the public, as well as to grow food for the food bank.

Food bank executive director Wes Clark said the donation was “huge.”

“It gives us an opportunity to work on some infrastructure,” he said. “Co-op has really come to our aid”

That infrastructure includes a tractor, as well as a water reclamation project the garden is participating in along with S.H.A.R.E, it’s next-door neighbour. The water reclamation project involves tapping into a dry well built when the Molson factory was on the site.

This will be the first full year for the garden. Last year was a sort of test run to make sure the project would work, and now, with growing community support, the food bank has begun it’s effort to prove that rocky, urban land can be turned into a viable garden.

“It’s fairly rough,” Clark said. “We’ve pulled a lot of stuff out of the ground, concrete and rebar and different things. So this is about remediation.”

Clark said the food bank had the soil tested to make sure it’s safe. While the University of Saskatchewan determined the soil was safe, they weren’t sure how the food bank was going to manage to grow anything.

The food bank is continuing to monitor biological activity in the soil to try to increase its fertility.

“It’s exciting. It shows we can really turn land around,” Clark said.

So far, some crops are beginning to sprout from beneath the surface. A hugelkultur plot is showing signs of life, and some of the tilled soil is also sprouting the beginnings of plants.

Clark emphasized that it’s more about education than production.

“We’ve done a lot of work with the food coalition and we’ve met with a lot of stakeholders,” he said. “The word from everyone was we need education. We need to reconnect people with the food they’re buying.”

It’s also to educate people about some of the healthy, affordable alternatives they can introduce into their diet. Peas, beans, lentils and even quinoa are being grown at the garden, but not everyone knows how to use some of those crops.

“Lentils are such a cheap product. If people worked with it, we could buy lots and feed a lot of people. Unfortunately, a lot of people have no idea. It’s not a part of their regular diet,” Clark said.

“We can connect with our community kitchens, show people who are interested that (it) is something that can be worked with (and it’s) a high protein product. There are a lot of different things out there.”

For now, though, one of the most important things the garden is growing is partnership.

“This is a community resource. It’s all about partnerships,” Clark said. “There are so many partners, I would be here for a great deal of time just listing off everyone. We’re very thankful.”

The newest partner, Co-op, couldn’t be happier. After chief financial officer Tim Keller presented the cheque to Clark, spokesperson Cara Stelmaschuk spoke about the importance of the garden project.

“This is awesome,” she said. “This is when I first learned about the garden even existing, so to find out that they’re reclaiming land that was forgotten and using it for a good cause, what’s a better use of community space than that?”