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Late Salmon Arm farmer to be honoured with community food garden

John McLeod Community Garden planned for lot on city fairgrounds
Longtime Salmon Arm farmer and food-security advocate John McLeod passed away in October 2023. (File photo)

“We just want people to be able to grow their own food.”

This, explained the Shuswap Food Action Society’s Melanie Bennett, is the underlying goal behind a planned downtown community garden. It is also a sentiment John McLeod would have shared – which is, in part, why the garden is being named after the late Salmon Arm farmer and food-security champion.

The John McLeod Community Garden will be taking root beside the red log Shuswap Agriculture Association building at 490 5th Ave SW – at the northwest corner of the south Salmon Arm fairgrounds. It is being created by the Shuswap Food Action Society (SFAS) in collaboration with the Shuswap Agriculture Association.

“We’ve been talking about a community garden down here for a few years…,” said Bennett who, as McLeod did, sees in land not yet touched by asphalt and concrete the potential to produce food.

“When you walk around in a downtown area and you see lots of grass that’s basically unused, as someone who loves to grow food, not lawns, you form those ideas…,” said Bennett. “Our biggest goal right now is we know people need to be able to grow their own food if they want to. If you’re in an apartment, if you’re in a condo down here, you can’t. You can on a patio if you have a patio, but not everybody does. We feel this is a really good use of this space.”

Bennett said the SFAS will continue its Community Teaching Garden in North Broadview. Food grown there is shared with local food banks. The John McLeod Community Garden will bring similar educational opportunities to the downtown, but to provide individuals with the skills and the space needed to grow their own food.

“This is very much a space where we want to be teaching from,” said Bennett, explaining the garden will be a space available to downtown Salmon Arm residents to increase household food security and build local resilience.

“Our desire is to see a group of people within the surrounding area coming together to grow more of their own food and develop friendships and camaraderie to assist each other in this effort,” said Bennett.

Work on phase 1 of the new community garden is underway, with hardscaping to begin mid month. The SFAS plans to have a Bed Building Party at the end of April, with planting at the end of May. The hope is to have a grand opening on June 1. Funding for the project is from the John McLeod Memorial Fund, Eagle Homes and funds raised through the Coldest Night of the Year.

A “first come, first served” application process for garden beds will be opening for downtown residents. Depending on the number of applicants, Bennett said a lottery may be used.

“Right now there’s 25 beds and we’ll see what the demand is,” said Bennett. “We hope there’s great demand because that is information we can showcase to the city and say there’s a lot of residents who would like to garden. Where else can we build community gardens?”

The garden will be accessed by a gate secured with a coded lock. It will include a community bed in addition to the individual beds. Watering of the 8-by-4-foot individual beds will be done be hand, and the beds will be made to retain water. Totes will be set up to capture rainwater. When they run dry, Bennett said they can be filled with available city water, “to make sure we always have water upon restrictions.”

Existing trees will be kept, with fruiting shrubs added between those growing along the western fence. In the northwest corner, a sign will be going up honouring McLeod. In front of that there will be a pollinator garden.

McLeod was a president of the SFAS and also served on the city’s agricultural and environmental advisory committees. Bennett said his advocacy for food security and food sovereignty as a part of the city’s official community plan is a “large part of his legacy and one that we continue to work toward, including the creation of this Community Garden.”

“This is a great honour to be able to use his name and the McLeod family, they’re really happy to see that his name can be used in this manner and the legacy and all the work that he did for food security,” said Bennett.

In addition to applicants, Bennett is looking to the community for used gardening tools including shovels, fan rakes, a wheelbarrow and hand tools like spades, forks and weeders, as well as watering cans. Perennials would also be appreciated – particularly those that attract pollinators.

“Our desire is to see a group of people within the surrounding area coming together to grow more of their own food and develop friendships and camaraderie to assist each other in this effort,” said Bennett.

Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor of the Salmon Arm Observer, Shuswap Market, and Eagle Valley News. I'm always looking for new and exciting ways to keep our readers informed and engaged.
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