By RYAN KING
CODROY VALLEY — Springtime gardening is common in the Codroy Valley and with good reason. The micro-climate that so attracts a wide variety of birdlife also means great weather for residents to grow some of their own food while enjoying the outdoors and keeping active. The new Community Service Garden in Doyles will not only provide food to help the community, it will also serve to educate volunteers about agriculture.
The garden project is being spearheaded by Tracy Keeping, manager of the Leading Edge Credit Union (LECU) branch in Doyles, and Megan Samms, who runs a small farm, Katalisk Sipu Gardens.
Samms learned firsthand the benefits that cultivating a garden can have on the individual, as well as the community. Having grown up in the Codroy Valley, she has been involved in agriculture her whole life, and continued her interest in agriculture when she moved out of province.
“I grew up with two root cellars and a big garden. So, I’ve had access to gardens my whole life. And all my 20s I worked on a wildfire lookout, and I had a huge garden there. I supplied all my own food there by way of the garden, chickens, and bees. So, when we moved home, it was the obvious answer as to what we wanted to do with our time and our life,” said Samms.
Samms then founded Katalisk Sipu Gardens with her partner, Ash Hall. The name of the farm comes from the Mi’kmaq name for the Grand Codroy River, with Sipu meaning river, and Katalisk referring to eels or eel-grass.
She also noted that beyond the obvious benefits of local agriculture to the individual, it can also contribute to community wellness.
“I think that having a small business, in a small community, contributing as best as you can to circular economics, like spending your money here, making your money here, and then spending it here, just circling back on itself, helps the community in ways as well. And it also provides an example for youth, like how to stay here and why to stay here. Because I think it’s common right across Newfoundland and Labrador, people are leaving,” said Samms.
At the farm the couple focuses on organic agriculture. While not certified as organic, they do not use any herbicides, pesticides, or commercial fertilizer. They will be bringing this same mandate to the Community Service Garden.
“We keep bees, so there’s absolutely no way that we could use it. We don’t have any interest in using pesticides in any case. We have bees here, and a mixed flock of birds, so we’re pretty careful,” said Samms. “We are also one of the only places without varroa mites, which we should also try and maintain as long as possible. It’s a special situation here in terms of bee keeping.”
What is possible through small scale local agriculture is well demonstrated at Katalisk Sipu Gardens. The farm produces botanical body care products from their garden, including lip balms, salves, infused oils, deodorants, and a dozen different kinds of soap. Additionally, they also have duck eggs, chicken eggs, produce, cut flowers, herbs, and some mixed herbal teas.
“They’re all made with locally foraged botanicals. We don’t use essential oils, or herbs from anywhere else. We wildcraft them all, right around our house basically,” said Samms.
Given their own success at organic agriculture at their small farm, the couple looked for a way to give the whole community a chance to try it. This led Samms to collaborate with Keeping and the LECU, who offered up space on their property to create the garden.
“It’s a community service garden, but it won’t fit the traditional model of the community garden. So, people won’t be renting plots and stuff like that. We identified that that’s not really a need in the valley. There’s a lot of space. There are most people who have gardens, who either have the space, or they have a family member with the space. But where there is a gap is that there’s a lot of fundraising that happens in the valley,” said Samms.
She pointed out that the Codroy Valley Volunteer Fire Department raises much of their funds through lobster suppers and cold plates. However, if the Fire Department didn’t have to buy their own produce for these events, they would then be able to raise even more money. Similarly, if the local schools wanted to raise money for something like a school trip, then they could make a stew-pack or salad-bags from the Community Service Garden to sell.
“Then the rest of the produce will be given away to the community. We will have produce pick up days, like during the days that we harvest the beets. We will give away the beet greens, zucchinis, onions. We will be able to give that away to residents of the Valley,” said Samms.
Another benefit to the community will be for the times that the ferry is delayed from arriving in Port aux Basques, which has in the past sometimes led to a lack of fresh produce available. This is something that the Community Service Garden could help rectify, although, as Samms observed, this will take time.
“That’s more of a longer-term vision, because the ferries are more of a winter time issue – if the ferries don’t land, although it can happen this time of year too. But we thought that with the community service garden at least, there will be a location where produce will be available. We are working on a year-round greenhouse there, so if we could be producing colder weather crops in the greenhouse all winter, then that kind of fills a gap as well,” said Samms.
Samms provided the know how of how to go about building and servicing the garden beds, and served to organize much of it. The LECU, in turn, provided an area on their property to house the garden. The materials, labour, seeds, and other essentials were then donated by other community groups and members.
“We had topsoil donated by West Valley Farms. Lumber was donated by two different sawmill owners. Seeds were donated from Larick Home Hardware, Hockey’s, and we donated seeds that we saved, because we save our own seeds year after year,” said Samms. “J&J Gutters also donated a living plant wall that we planted with herbs and lettuce.”
None of the funding for the garden has been in the form of monetary donations, which makes the garden a true community effort, where the most important donation is people’s time and effort. Samms noted that individuals like Jeremy Pope cleared the area behind the Credit Union last year, and then graded it. Derrel Ryan donated gravel, and Mike Hilliard gave his time with his excavator to spread it out.
“It’s been a work in progress for about a year,” said Samms.
While it’s still early in the planning stages, the garden has already been approved for a program through the Food Producers Forum, which builds greenhouses across the island for community groups.
“We did apply on that, and we were approved, but the rest is all up in the air,” noted Samms.
Working with a master’s student at Memorial University, it was determined that the best option would be construction of an earth-sheltered greenhouse designed for Newfoundland’s various climates. With the community garden located in Doyles, the Wreckhouse winds do affect the area, making this type of greenhouse an ideal setup.
The Community Service Garden is already showing signs of success, if its first volunteer session is any indication.
“It was excellent. We had 35 people show up. So now I’m working on a summer schedule of volunteers. We will be asking on a volunteer basis what day is best for them to come and do some weeding for an hour or so throughout the summer. That’s how we will maintain it, through a volunteer base,” explained Samms.
On Saturday, June 5, the volunteers built, filled, and planted all the garden beds. These included wooden slab beds that are about four feet tall, by four feet wide, by eight feet long. They then built raised rock beds, which were also filled and planted.
“There’s blackcurrants, lilies, and herbs. But we also planted basic staple crops, beets, spinach, carrots, peas, onions. We have some like celery, tomatoes, turnips, and radish,” said Samms.
Another major benefit of the Community Service Garden is the learning opportunity that it provides for children. Samms said that the hope is to have the schools further involved with the garden, to teach students about agriculture while also getting them outdoors, active, and helping out the community.
“We had a group of children come out for the first volunteer day, but we also plan on reaching out more and have them come help with the harvest, and having the kids come help with all kinds of stuff, like everything we can get them into,” said Samms.
The garden is also intended to be a learning space for adults through workshops. Though there is nothing planned as of yet, Samms sees this as an important goal for the future.
“To host workshops, composting workshops…. maybe propagation workshops, like how to take cuttings and graft them. Maybe have people come in and give talks about agriculture, and how to get into it. Because it’s a pretty big world, and it can seem hard to get into because of access to land, and financing for machinery, and stuff like that. But there’s more than one way to farm, and you can, in my opinion, you can take a different approach,” said Samms.
Anyone who is interested in volunteering is encouraged to touch base with Samms through the Katalisk Sipu Gardens Facebook page or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also contact Tracy Keeping at Doyles LECU.