McCauley residents lead food security initiative, strengthen community

Written by Stephen MacDonald

Now that spring has finally arrived, gardeners across Edmonton will start preparing their vegetable gardens, planting seeds with hopes of a modest autumn harvest. At the same time, residents and social agency staff in Edmonton’s McCauley neighborhood will begin working on their own neighbourhood garden as part of a local movement to make food and gardening more accessible to area residents.

Neighbourhood garden at McCauley School
Volunteers working in one of the raised beds at the neighbourhood garden at McCauley School. Photo: Christopher Leclair

Despite our city’s prosperity, not all Edmontonians have equal access to quality, nutritious food. E4C, a social service organization that provides a wide range of direct social services and programs to low-income Edmontonians, has been working with a series of other community organizations such as Wecan, The Mustard Seed and the Multicultural Health Brokers to create small gardens that help low-income individuals access nutritious food that they need and bring community members together to learn more about the process of growing food.

For the last 10 years, E4C has been running the Wecan City Centre depot, a food purchasing co-operative that helps low-income individuals and families in the area access healthy food at a reasonable price. In 2011, some of the depot’s members in the McCauley neighborhood began talking about creating a community garden that was closer to their neighborhood than the Wecan City Centre depot. Following a series of discussions with other neighborhood residents and social agency workers in the area, a garden was proposed for the grounds at McCauley School.

By 2013, 15 raised beds for McCauley residents and three larger boxes for agencies had been built, starting the push for a permanent community garden at McCauley School. Volunteers built the raised beds mostly out of salvaged materials from the Boyle Street and Peas Be With You gardens that had recently closed. Over 40 residents from the neighbourhood were actively involved in its planning and construction. This year, five new beds will be built to accommodate the growing demand for gardening space.

In addition to giving residents an opportunity to take in the beauty and pleasure of gardening, McCauley’s neighborhood garden has strengthened the community, creating intergenerational bonds between a local daycare which runs one of the garden’s beds, and local seniors who also grow food in the garden and share their wealth of gardening knowledge with the young participants. The garden also celebrates the cultural diversity of the neighborhood. Gardeners are growing food from their own cultures, exposing other participants to different types of food that they’ve never seen before.

Produce growing in the raised garden beds
Produce growing in the raised beds at McCauley School. Photo: Christopher Leclair

Another important part of this garden is that it provides free educational opportunities to local residents and agency members. With financial support from the City of Edmonton’s McCauley Revitalization Strategy, the garden offers a variety of gardening-related workshops to community members, covering topics such as composting, building self-watering raised beds, food security and intercultural cooking.

In addition to the community garden, residents of McCauley are thinking of other ways to improve food security in their neighborhood. There is a growing interest in the area to develop programs as diverse as collective kitchens, food-buying co-operatives, city farms and fruit orchards.

For more information or to get involved with these local food projects in Edmonton, contact E4C’s David Prodan at 780-424-2870.

Stephen MacDonald is an information management professional/social advocate. He is interested in a variety of issues, including community building, poverty and homelessness reduction and topics related to food security and the environment.