An Airdrie resident is starting an urban farm collective in west Airdrie to get gardening enthusiasts digging in the dirt during the COVID-19 pandemic this spring.
According to Jenn Katerina, founder and facilitator of Airdrie Urban Farm Collective, the future home of the farm had been sitting bare for many years on land owned by Daybreak Community Church. She said that she and her team of experts and volunteers began meeting with Mayor Peter Brown in January to discuss how the land could better serve the community. A proposal was drafted to the church council shortly after so they could use the land for an urban garden.
In a statement, the church said that as part of their commitment to the community, they will be facilitating the creation of the urban farm on a portion of its property, west of the church, managed by volunteer Jenn Caspell.
“A garden is such a beautiful thing for a community to be a part of, so the mayor was super eager and told us that he would support us however he could,” Katerina said. “And it’s proven to be a very smooth process so far.”
As soon as Katerina received approval from the City and the church, she hit the ground running and has since brought together a team of individuals passionate about the cause. She said she was excited to recruit Paul Hughes of Grow Calgary Farm, located near CrossIron Mills, which is the largest urban farm in Canada.
“He is the only reason we’ve been able to get off the ground with this thing,” Katerina said. “He’s attended all the meetings with me and he’s going to be the reason that we are successful, because of his knowledge and the simplicity with which he approaches urban farming.”
Katerina said that her goal is to involve as much of the community as possible, including people of all ages.
With COVID-19 precautions in place, she added gardening is a safe outdoor activity for families to participate in.
“I have a husband who works in health-care so COVID has hit our family really hard and has taken a huge toll on our mental health,” she said. “I think the importance of doing anything we possibly can for our mental health is vital for people getting through this year feeling like we've got some 'umph' left.
“Any type of environment like this is so therapeutic and we hope that it can be that for whatever stage people are in. Whether life is really heavy for them or they're just trying to enjoy their summer, I hope to create an atmosphere that can be welcoming to any age and any stage.”
Katerina said that while many people confuse an urban farm with a community garden, there are some key differences. In a community garden, there are individual plots available for people to grow whatever produce they want. The plot owners are responsible for looking after it and for the harvest.
But with an urban farm, everybody works together and enjoys in the harvest together.
Katerina and her team will be using a form of gardening called “lasagna bed,” where beds are placed on top of the grass that is already in the land. The process includes cardboard being laid down with mulch, organic matter, straw, and then more dirt on top.
“It looks like a lump of dirt but it will be beautiful once things start growing and that is going to be simple,” she said. “But it’s going to be a lot of work and if people are willing to put in the work, they will experience a mental grounding from it that I think will be really beautiful.”
While getting fresh produce on people’s tables is the ultimate goal of the urban garden, Katerina said teaching them how to cook and enjoy the food they’ve grown is also an important aspect of it.
“I have two young children and my kids are excited to learn and I'm really excited to teach them,” she said, adding students in her daughter’s Grade 1 class will also be getting involved in the garden and are already growing seeds in their classroom.
She added she hopes the initiative will be “nurturing to people’s souls,” during the ongoing health crisis.
“I think that two of the most basic needs that humankind has no matter what status you hold [are] food and shelter,” Katerina said. “There’s lots of programs available for people in and around our city, but getting fresh produce in those food hampers or however you're receiving that food is a whole different category and it's harder to come by.”
For those interested in getting involved with the Airdrie Urban Farm Collective, more information can be found on the initiative’s Facebook group.
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