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Growing possibilities: the making of the possible garden

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

T. Knudtson • 9 July 2020

In early March of 2020, the pandemic lockdown had become an unprecedented reality for Calgarians, resulting in fear, uncertainty, layoffs, and runs on the grocery stores. Recognizing the need for a swift response, your CBMCA convened an emergency board meeting and struck a committee to explore ways to best serve the community through the challenges to come. Several initiatives followed:

  • CBMCA members and volunteers provided guidance to residents needing to access provincial and federal financial relief programs. Resources were provided to support mental and physical resilience for isolated residents. The committee reached out the AHS to explore ways to support healthcare workers, and discussed ways to help local businesses.

  • CBMCA members and volunteers dug deep to donate $50,000 to various local charities, including the Calgary Food Bank, The Drop-In Centre, Alpha House, Woods Homes, Discovery House, the Mustard Seed, Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, Women In Need, the United Way, the Centre for Suicide Prevention, and the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.

  • Safe delivery protocols were developed, and a network of volunteers was recruited to deliver hundreds of bags of groceries to seniors, those in quarantine, and the immunocompromised. (Shout-out to Ric, Tammy, Laura, Hasan, and Ken from Safeway, without whom we could not have hoped to accomplish this important work).

With the immediate survival needs of the community addressed, we wondered what more could we do to support the community and raise the morale of those within it? The cold, early spring was slowly giving way to warmer temperatures, and Cliff Bungalow – Mission residents had been cooped up in their homes for weeks.

Is it possible?

As you are no doubt aware, our neighbourhood boasts not one but two amazing community gardens – the Cliff Bungalow Garden and the Mission Garden. They are beautiful, established, inclusive gardens run by kind and caring volunteers, and spots in the garden are highly coveted – each year, many aspiring gardeners are left on a waitlist with not enough garden beds to go around. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if, with all that is going on right now, everyone who wants a garden bed could have one?”

Armed only with a little hope and a lot of naivety, we set ourselves to the task. First, we needed land. Like any sought-after community in Calgary, our neighbourhood has several vacant lots awaiting development at any given time. One by one, we pitched our idea to the owners of each lot and were met with positive responses – everyone agreed it seemed like a great idea. An agreement in principle is a long way from an agreement on paper, however, and the negotiations began in earnest.

Parallel to this, we reached out to the City of Calgary and received unqualified support. Everyone we spoke with loved the idea and were eager to do what they could to help. Our City Liaison, Brenda Annala, immediately began researching bylaws, making connections, and lending advice. Cst. Derek Havens of the CPS offered encouragement. Ron Buchan from the Parks Department weighed in with much needed advice and a donation offer of soil and mulch. Our City Councillors, Jeromy Farkas and Evan Woolley with EA Jill Mawer stepped up with offers of help.

Concurrently, we reached out to our insurer to understand the insurance ramifications and were again pleased to receive enthusiastic support. Toole Peet representative Michael Murray worked with the CBMCA Board and the underwriters to understand the project and keep premiums manageable while providing the protection needed. It took a few weeks of back and forth negotiations (not to mention a crash-course in land use agreement writing for the Board!), but with Michael’s help we got the coverage in place.

What we didn’t yet have in place… was a place. One by one, negotiations with landowners broke down. Pending development deals with shifting timelines, market uncertainty, worries about potential liability, fears of unintended impact on neighbours, and other concerns weighed on the owners. Some felt it was just too much hassle. We started with a list of five sites, now none were left standing. Worse yet, time to get planting was running out.

The breakthrough

It was now the beginning of June. Most gardens in Calgary are already planting by May long weekend, and we still had no land to create our garden, much less beds to plant in. Weeks had gone into negotiating with landowners, and each negotiation had fallen apart. With heavy hearts, we began to think we would have to admit defeat. But on June 6th, an unsolicited email showed up in our inbox.

Travis ‘Red’ Oslanski, a former member of the CBMCA and Mission gardener, was looking for ways to use his lot in Mission. The 2013 flood had damaged the foundation of the house on the lot and it had to be torn down in 2015. Since then, the lot had sat vacant while he explored ways to develop the site. It was just an empty clay field, and an eyesore in the neighbourhood. In 2020, Red was determined to change that.

Image: Before construction.

Kind and community minded, Red and his stout heart (aided by a few good friends) started to build a path across the lot fashioned from fenceposts borrowed from his family farm. On a break from this work, Red sent an email to your CBMCA, reading in part, “I have recently found myself motivated to put in a bit of work to … spruce up that corner for the summer at the very least. With that said, I wanted to reach out to see if there if there was any interest in using any of the space on the lot for members to garden?”

Eureka! We met with Red and shortly thereafter had signed agreements in hand and a shared vision for the lot. Now, all we needed was a garden… and gardeners! We sent an email to the waitlist gardeners, and the response was overwhelming and enthusiastic – everyone on the waitlist still wanted a garden, and all of them were happy to help set it up. Of the gardeners, Hana Gohill and Amber Yeo stepped forward to manage the garden, and garden guru Geraldine Gray offered to lend her experience to guide the project. We had land, and we had our team.

What a village can do: Construction

On June 16th, the soil was delivered thanks to the City and the good folks at Soil Kings. This kicked off the construction proper. Red trucked in dozens more fence posts to construct the garden beds and, guided by Amber and Geraldine, garden volunteers built the physically distanced beds and moved hundreds of pounds of soil to fill them. Mulch was delivered (some by the City and some by Red) and spread over the site. Red worked with his neighbours to get access to water, and we found what might have been the last two rain barrels available in the city thanks to Green Calgary and The Barrelman. Things were coming together!

And the donations continued. Tracey and Carissa from Rainbow Greenhouses donated nearly 200 flower and vegetable seedlings. Local artist Dean Stanton stepped up to create a sign, and local artist Derek Mah offered to create lovely garden markers. Georgina Jameson from the Mission Garden offered seeds, advice, and use of tools, and Sue Gryzenhout and Natasha Kuzmak from the Cliff Bungalow Garden lent their knowledge and support. Amber and Hana held a draw to assign the beds to gardeners, and the gardeners got to planting. Together we all built a garden! With only five days of teamwork and plenty of sweat, the garden was ready and planted by June 20th – Neighbour Day.

Image: A mighty team, mid-construction.

Since then, the garden continues to evolve. Red purchased (from his own pocket) a trailer load of gravel, and together with Amber and Hana laid the weed barrier, trenched posts, and shifted the gravel to complete the path. Community members have stopped by with offers of support, cold beverages, and thanks. Passing pedestrians have become fans, volunteers, and/or gardeners. A raised bed for the mobility challenged was added. Someone donated a lovely bench, and a wee garden gnome mysteriously appeared in one of the beds.

What's in a name?

Only time will tell what the vegetable yield of the garden will be, but it has already proven fruitful, producing hope, joy, learning, purpose, and new friendships sure to last long after the last potato is harvested. Since the project began, dozens of people have helped to make it a reality. This has truly been a collective effort, and it continues to be. Together, we are making the improbable possible. And so, the garden is named ‘Possible Garden, or ‘Jardin Possible’ in French.

The word ‘possible’ means a great deal to us. This name honours the past, both near - the very first Neighbour Day was held in Mission after the flood in 2013 and was called ‘Mission Possible’ - and far - the garden is located in old Rouleauville, so we honour the Francophone history of the community by choosing a meaningful word that is identical in both English and French. The name also keeps an eye on the future by reminding us that, with the right people by your side, anything is possible.

Image: Post construction.

Image: Such a lovely garden!

The Possible Garden/Jardin Possible is located on the NE corner of 25th Avenue and 1st Street SW.

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