By JAYMIE WHITE
Special to The Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – The concept of a community garden is familiar to the Town of Stephenville. Last year the town council set up a successful community garden on Georgia Drive. They provided support from the public works department to the Stephenville Lions Club for their community garden, and now the town is throwing support behind yet another, this time with a twist.
Recreation and Wellness Co-ordinator Marissa Simon worked closely with the YMCA and Duke of Edinburgh students in the Bay St. George area to get the community garden program started. The garden is located next to the YMCA in Stephenville.
“In the beginning, a bunch of different organizations in the community got together and started what we’re calling the ‘Food Sharing Network’ where we are trying to help food poverty in our area, and so we are all taking different roles in this. But the community garden was part of the conversation in that project and so this is like a trial-starter of that project potentially becoming a community food network. The project is not moving forward as of now, but that is how the conversation got started,” explained Simon.
Simon secured funding for the project through the Community Healthy Living Fund, a provincial government grant program.
“It initially started with funding, and Rick Dollimount, the Duke of Edinburgh group leader, actually reached out to me shortly after I got the approval for this grant. He was looking for a Gold Duke project for their group to complete, and seeing if we had any projects on the go they could help with. Somehow we got on the topic of the community garden and how that could be a project they could join in with us on,” said Simon.
The Duke of Edinburgh program, which aims to challenge, recognize and empower young people, has three levels that must be completed. Bronze, which is the first level, takes 6-12 months, Silver, which takes 12-18 months, and the final level, Gold which takes 18-24 months.
A community garden wasn’t the original plan for the Duke of Edinburgh students but they had to do things a little differently this year because of COVID-19. With the restrictions in place, it wasn’t possible for the students to do their residential project in a new area, so it was necessary to come up with a different plan.
“In the Gold section of the program, their third year, there is an additional requirement. They need to do a residential project. Normally that would consist of them going somewhere, like a camp or field trip, somewhere that takes them out of their normal situations and puts them in a place with different folks they don’t normally deal with. Because of COVID and not being able to get out of your bubble and go somewhere else, we had to come up with an alternative, “ said Dollimount.
Mayor of Stephenville, Tom Rose said the garden will be the sole responsibility of and fully maintained by the Duke of Edinburgh group. There are already structures in place and crops have been planted.
The garden was constructed in sections, and there is a large circle with 35-foot diameter, where fruits like raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, and honeyberries have already been planted. There are plans to add two cherry trees as well.
There are also two small herb gardens, which are six feet across, and rows that are 35-feet long. Each of the eight planting boxes in the garden are three feet by seven feet. Crops planted will vary depending on the need and storage requirements of those receiving the donation.
Next year, there are plans to make two of the planter boxes fully wheelchair accessible.
“If someone is in a wheelchair and wants to plant a little garden for themselves, two of the boxes will be raised so the wheelchair can fit underneath it,” said Dollimount.
Mayor Rose thinks farming is an important skill for youth to master and this project is a way for them to do that.
“Getting the youth involved in farming, which has become such a trend with millennials and young people today, brings food stability to the forefront and shows the importance of backyard farming and small commercial farming,” said Rose.
It is hoped that the community garden will become a permanent fixture in Stephenville, and future members of the program will step up to volunteer.
“We have a lot of great leadership in our youth in Stephenville and Bay St. George, and I am very proud of that,” said Rose. “It helps our community. It helps our seniors. It helps everybody with their mental health, physical health, and I can’t say enough good about it.”