Over the past season, Rob Spencer said he saw more than just plants growing in Stettler Community Gardens.
“The gardens bring people together,” he said. “It creates a social gathering point . . . It’s also a space for people to grow together as a community.”
Spencer, a member of the Heartland Beautification Committee, said it has been another successful season for the gardens.
Around 50 families took the opportunity to plant and maintain plots in the gardens this year, growing their own fresh vegetables and learning from each other about how to get the most of their efforts.
Spencer said the original concept of the gardens was to give local residents the opportunity and space to grow their own healthy food.
“There’s plenty of people in town that don’t have the space to grow a garden,” he said.
Most of the gardeners opt for traditional produce — root vegetables like potatoes, carrots and beets, along with tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, onions, radishes, beans and peas.
A few branch out to the less common varieties — cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli or kohlrabi.
“People don’t stray too far from the tried and true,” said Spencer. “Most people stay within that range.”
The Community Gardens now operate two sites in town. The original site, established in the spring of 2010, now consists of about 14,000 square feet and is located south of Highway 12, near the school sports fields.
The second site, added last spring, is located west of Highway 56 and south of Pioneer Park. It’s a raised garden site with about 6,500 square feet of space.
Even with a slight expansion of the original site this year — increasing it by roughly 1,000 to 1,500 square feet — Spencer said the gardens were completely full.
There has been talking to adding a third site, he said, also noting that by and large, the gardeners did well this year in maintaining their plots, removing weeds and so forth.
He observed that the original site had some difficulties this year as it had been dug up over the winter and there were some concerns about the soil quality. The level site also suffers from some drainage issues.
“As we work to improve the soil and improve the site, I think we’ll see less and less of them,” he said, adding that the second site has no such issues.
Spencer said he saw both new and familiar faces at the gardens this year, adding that most of the participants opted for medium- or large-sized plots, though smaller plots are also available.
As the gardens have grown, he’s noticed some challenges, including the need to remind visitors that the produce grown on individual plots belongs to the gardeners who planted it.
“We’ve had some people just come through and help themselves to people’s gardens,” he said.
Spencer said organizers are considering putting up signs to remind people to respect each other’s property, adding that they may also someday set up public plots where guests are free to help themselves.
Registration for plots takes place each year from February through April. Forms are made available online on the Town of Stettler website or through the parks and leisure office at the Stettler Recreation Centre.
“Each year we’ve been trying to get the forms out earlier,” said Spencer.
Prospective gardeners must complete and submit the form and pay a nominal fee for their plot. Organizers try to match returning gardeners with the plots they had before, but the plots are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
This year, organizers had help from local high school students, who lent their hands in mulching and rototilling the soil.
In addition to the individual plots, a food bank plot with short-season crops is maintained by organizers and harvested regularly, with the produce donated to the local food bank.
Spencer said that volunteers are always welcome to offer their help in maintaining the sites, or providing ideas or other contributions.