A community garden could grow beautiful vegetables like these tomatoes Lino Punis has grown in his greenhouse.

A community garden could grow beautiful vegetables like these tomatoes Lino Punis has grown in his greenhouse.

Reinvigorating community garden

Burns Lake’s Partnering 4 Healthier Communities committee hopes to reinvigorate local interest in community gardening.

Burns Lake’s Partnering 4 Healthier Communities (P4HC) committee hopes to reinvigorate local interest in community gardening.

Village councillor Susan Schienbein, co-chair of the committee, said last week the group plans to hold a public meeting Aug. 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the Immaculata Church to discuss community gardening and determine the current level of local interest in it.

“We are inviting any members of the community who have an interest in community gardening, creating sustainable food sources, local food security, and those just interested in gardening,” Schienbein said. “In particular, we will be inviting some of the folks who have been coming to the summer market and selling their goods. We will also be inviting the administrators of the seniors’ housing, Lake Babine Nation, and Burns Lake Band.”

A community garden is any piece of public or private land cultivated by a group of people rather than a single family or individual. Unlike public parks and other green spaces maintained by local governments, community gardens are generally managed and controlled by unpaid individuals or volunteers – usually the gardeners themselves.

Burns Lake’s existing community garden is located on municipal land adjacent to the Immaculata Church, but Schienbein says its use has declined in recent years. Only a few of the garden’s beds are currently being utilized, and the P4HC committee co-chair thinks the facility’s location may be partially to blame.

“It is not a great location in that most successful community gardens are highly visible,” she noted. “This one, alas, is not. But we don’t think that it rules it out completely. We do, however, believe that for the notion of community gardening to ‘take root’, it will require a more public, visible location to reinforce the concept.

“I think the biggest obstacle (to reinvigorating community gardening) will be the location. If we continue with the existing location, there are some benefits but visibility is not one of them. The other obstacle might be getting the full support of mayor and council. We will be going to them formally after the public meeting, but we know that this is not on the goals and objectives for 2016. But we are still going to try.”

Schienbein hopes the public meeting will provide the stimulus needed to grow community gardening in Burns Lake. She said that if enough local residents express interest in the project, the P4HC committee is prepared to invest in it financially.

“We received $7500 this year for our P4HC grant, and we have some funds left from last year that we have earmarked for some seniors’ projects that would fit with a garden initiative that directly benefits seniors,” she noted.

“We don’t know for sure what the costs are to rehabilitate the existing site. If we get enough interest, we’ll use some of the seed funding … to get the garden back into shape. We are, of course, hoping that the Village of Burns Lake public works department might be able to help with the labour part of it. Again, (that’s) if we want to spend the time and effort on that particular location.”

While the P4HC committee is prepared to nurture community gardening in Burns Lake, Schienbein said that ideally, another community organization or group will take long-term ownership of the project.

“Community gardens need a champion,” she explained. “The previous champion left the community, and very few garden beds are being used. It has been several years since the VBL invested any money or did any work, and the garden is neglected. There is, however, a lot of potential. There is also a much greater consciousness about local food sustainability and security, and we think that now there may be more interest. We also have Northern Health keenly interested as a partner, and this may help the project get better legs.”

Schienbein encourages anyone with an interest in community gardening and local food production to attend next week’s public meeting.

“If you are interested in local food production, food security, 100 mile diet, shopping local, gardening, and supporting a healthier community – come to this meeting,” she urged. “We need and value everyone’s input!”

Burns Lake’s P4HC committee is a product of Northern Health’s efforts to involve local communities in health care. It was established after residents identified a need to raise awareness of the risk factors for chronic disease that are impacting the community. According to Schienbein, the committee is focusing on healthy eating as a social determinant of health.