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Learning garden in the works for Grand Forks

Editor's note: Graham Watt also presented this topic to Grand Forks city councillors at their committee of the whole meeting, Aug. 18

A new garden for the community will soon be growing out of grounds at the Aquatic Centre.

A group of community members developed the vision and draft design for the ‘learning garden’ (a working name), and have started meeting with community groups to form the partnerships that will make it happen.

“People in Grand Forks and the Boundary love to garden and put a strong emphasis on self-reliance – there are many yards and farms with fruit and nut trees, herb gardens, huge vegetable gardens, and xeriscape or dryland gardens” said Graham Watt.

“Instead of focusing on problems facing the valley – climate change, food insecurity, economic uncertainty – this garden design finds the solutions within these problems in a way that inspires healthy living and brings people together,” said Kim Watt, an ecological gardener and educator.

“A learning garden like this allows the community to ‘put it all together’ in a way that reduces water use, avoids fertilizers and pesticides, reduces carbon emissions, and helps a diversity of living things – plants, pollinators, birds – and people!”

“The original idea came from Grand Forks Recreation’s John Mackey this spring before he retired,” said Graham Watt. “John had been to a recreation centre in the lower mainland with a thriving community garden and ‘planted the seed’ by asking how we could do something like this here.”

The project has been taken under the wing of the Grand Forks and Boundary Region Agricultural Society, which will provide support as the project evolves and anchor partnerships with the recreation department, the City, and other groups.

“What really got me excited about this is how it brings together so many elements in the community,” said Christy Luke, the Society’s representative on the group.

“There’s opportunities for learning and sharing for everyone here – for children, for youth, for seniors – and it provides the real life, hands-on education that people are hungry for,” added Luke. 

The group is using an integrated design system known as ‘permaculture’ to plan the garden and form a foundation for the hands-on education there. Local permaculture designer and teacher Sarah Orlowski noted, “This really is gardening for the future.”

“The garden will showcase how people can be stewards of the Kettle River in their own yards and businesses,” said Graham Watt, who is Coordinator of the Kettle River Watershed Management Plan. “If we want to conserve water we need to build soil, we need to restore ecosystems, and we need to provide food for the community without polluting.”

Peter Matheson drafted the most recent version of the garden design, which was presented to Grand Forks City Council on July 18. “This really shows a collaboration of a whole bunch of creative minds – people who want to see sustainable agriculture and economic opportunity come together” said Matheson.

The group envisions that a group of volunteers will help build and maintain the garden, with support and funding from various organizations such as the City of Grand Forks, the Recreation Commission, community groups, and outside funders.

They will have a series of meetings to get everyone involved, and hope to start work this fall. 

-- submitted by Graham Watt