As the cooler days of autumn draw near, users at Hay River Community Gardens won’t have to retreat quite so early this year, thanks to a new greenhouse in the final stages of construction.
The greenhouse will help extend the growing season by at least two months, according to Jackie Milne, president of the Territorial Farmers’ Association and an avid market gardener.
“They’ll be able to plant cold crops in here into October,” she told The Hub. “The best thing that’s happening here is that the garden is growing gardeners.”
Milne said the structure is a good example of how the community can come together to accomplish a goal, since it has been put up entirely by volunteers.
“My husband helped out because he has some of the expertise, but this was all mostly done by women who use the gardens,” said Milne. “There were no contractors involved.”
Beyond providing a place for residents with limited outdoor space of their own to grow some of their own food, the community garden as a whole is an ongoing reclamation project. The land had been cleared for industrial use and most of the soil either pushed to the side of the clearing or carted away for sale elsewhere.
“This ground had been entirely denuded of soil,” Milne said, explaining how the mulch the gardeners use between beds – along with the beds themselves – will eventually help create a new layer of topsoil.
Only a few years old, the community gardens encouraged people with less experience in food production to try out different systems and learn from more seasoned veterans. For Milne, the learning process and experimentation are part of what make the initiative an effective and worthwhile pursuit.
But the learning curve is not limited to the site in the industrial area. Sharon Pekok bought a campground property in Paradise Gardens in 2005 and took over the existing Saskatoon berry plantation there. She said there was a lot to learn the first few years, but she has settled into the task and is now comfortable running the resulting U-pick business.
“We had to learn how to handle and maintain the electric bear fence, and watering systems,” Pekok said, adding that acquiring business licenses was a whole other side of the business that needs managing.
Pekok has about 500 trees on her property and sees between 100 and 200 visitors in a season. Some are tourists, but many residents come to get their yearly stock of Saskatoons.
“It’s a lot of word of mouth,” she said. “We do a lot of orders for people in Yellowknife, where we go out and pick the berries, but mostly it’s people calling their friends and telling them how much they want.”
This has been a good year for Saskatoons. Pekok said her busiest time of year is normally the August long weekend as the berries are just getting ripe and people are on holiday and travelling. This year was no exception.
While marketing the U-pick has so far been a small-scale operation, Pekok said in the future she would like to perhaps promote it a bit more to tourists passing through.
She is also considering expanding the business to sell saplings. She was told the original source of the seeds for her trees has gone out of business and, as a result, Paradise Valley is perhaps home to some of the last Saskatoon trees of that particular variety.
Pekok said she thinks growth will happen in its own time, and, for now, she is pleased with the business as it is.
“It’s been pretty good,” she said. “When you have people coming into your property, you get to visit with them, too, and you learn a lot from everyone.”
— Sarah Ladik