Feeding hope: Boyle Street Community Services’ Community Garden

When COVID-19 hit in March of 2020, businesses closed their doors. Fortunately, essential services like homeless serving organizations stayed open, but capacity restrictions forced a lot of their programming to move off-site. To keep some of their programming on-site, Dan Zimmerman, Drop-in Programming Coordinator, and Rebecca Kaiser, Inner City and Recreation Program Coordinator, decided to apply for a grant for a community garden from Sustainable Food Edmonton. This grant allowed them to create an edible garden in the courtyard space beside their drop-in centre downtown.

Throughout the summer, Boyle Street offered programming to community members experiencing poverty and homelessness. The first program that they brought in was a bike tune-up program with Bike Edmonton. Community members were invited to have their bicycles repaired in the courtyard, and spend time with other community members in the space while they were waiting.

Another great program that was offered was the pet food bank. Volunteers offered community members pet food for their animal companions. Some community members were also invited to help tend the plants and weed the garden.

“One of our original goals was to help our community have a space they could take ownership over and have pride over,” explains Dan. “Gardening is a low-barrier entry activity. Weed something and you can already make a difference.”

A mural was painted towards the end of the summer which depicted some female members of the community. Having a permanent art installation is so meaningful both to the staff of Boyle Street, as well as their community members. It really livens up the space.

In addition to providing a safe space for community members, staff were able to enjoy the space outdoors as a social area that they could get together for lunch or have a meeting face to face in an otherwise virtual world. With so many staff members working remotely or off-site, this community garden space offered a nice space for staff to get together and see one another, a luxury that the pandemic has taken away from colleagues.

To celebrate the end of the season, Boyle Street hosted a harvest party with food from the garden. It was a nice way to end the growing season for both staff and the community.

Winning a Communities ChooseWell Most Significant Change Award means so much to Rebecca and Dan.

“The words Most Significant Community Change says it all,” explains Rebecca. “We had such limited resources, as we always do, and I think to be able to meet community members where they’re at in a safe space, and to have space where they can forget and have a reprieve from the stress of COVID is so important.”

Boyle Street hopes to expand the garden this upcoming season and to host more programming. They also hope to add compost and to grow more edible plants this year.