Community garden tackling food insecurity, isolation

‘We recognized that people were struggling’: Mann

MOUNT FOREST – After almost two years of dedication by volunteers, the Mount Forest Community Garden is fulfilling its goals. 

The hope was to create a safe space for residents of Wellington North to grow food, learn and connect through gardening. 

And organizers now have a space filled with green thumbs and opportunities.

People can visit the garden, located at 451 Foster St. in Mount Forest, during daylight hours between June and September. 

When the idea came to life, the volunteers knew they wanted to address food insecurity and isolation on a local level. 

One of the ways they are tackling those issues is by donating food grown in the gardens to area food banks. 

“Once things come into season, twice a week we pick, and it goes straight to the food bank,” volunteer Elsa Mann told the Community News. 

The garden has three large planters designated for the food bank. 

“We grow potatoes, onions and carrots for the food bank … we donate other things too, but in terms of what people ask for specifically, we wanted to obviously respect that,” said Mann.

She is also part of the Mount Forest Family Health Team, which helped establish the garden. 

The community garden became an initiative of the health team in 2023, after noticing the struggles families were facing from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We recognized that people were struggling financially because budgets were stretched,” said Mann. 

“But also people were isolated; emotionally people were struggling.”

So volunteers formed four committees to start the project,  focusing on leadership, financial matters, property builds and community engagement. 

Local landowners Allan and Cathy Sharpe, having always been community minded, donated a free lease of land for the garden. 

The land was a “blank canvas” to build on, officials stated. 

They applied for funding through the Our Food Future Project from the County of Wellington and Guelph.  

“We didn’t get all the money we asked for, but we got enough money to rally and get people whipped up,” Mann said. 

A priority for the garden was to make it accessible to all. 

“We have different types of beds that we provide people: in-ground growing, raised beds and elevated beds,” Mann explained. 

The garden team’s ideas for the future include workshops, programs and inviting chefs to teach cooking. 

“You hear of yoga in the garden, you hear of art in the garden … it’s endless,” said Mann. 

Volunteers also plant flowers to encourage pollinators to join the garden. 

“We’re going back to mother nature, she has the best tools,” said volunteer Mike Marion. 

One section of the space is called the “grab and go garden,” which is open for people to snack on the vegetables grown there. 

It costs $15 to rent a four-by-eight foot plot for the season.

“It’s not a huge amount of money, but the idea was we didn’t want the money to be a barrier,” Mann added. 

As part of having a garden plot, members must contribute a minimum of five hours over the growing season to help  with common garden chores. 

The community garden is filled with seasoned gardeners and beginners, making it a space for learning. 

One volunteer enjoys sitting on a wooden bench watching butterflies in the garden. 

“This garden isn’t meant just to grow vegetables,” said volunteer Janet Johnson. 

“It’s meant to meet and greet people.”

She added, “We really have a very passionate group of people and our gardeners are learning.”