Mind, body and soil

Summerside residents tend their community plots

Way Up West | by Jan Cox

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Throughout the scorching summer heat, 21 faithful Summerside gardeners lovingly tended their plots at the corner of West and North Drives. The 180’ by 53’ plot of land is home to the Summerside Community Gardens. Garden co-coordinator and spokesperson, Ray Arsenault, sat down with me on a scalding afternoon to talk about this wonderful piece of land and the people who work it.

“It was more than 30 years ago, I think 1992, that the Bedeque Bay Environmental Management Association got the idea for a community garden here in Summerside. They were the first organizers, but after awhile, we the gardeners more or less ran it ourselves,” Arsenault recalled. “It was for people, environmentally conscious, who wanted to be involved in organic, chemical free gardening, and it still is,” he went on to say. There are 34 garden plots, measuring 20’ by 13”. Ray said, “This year we are full, full. I think folks were scared, this COVID–19 thing, and that gave people the incentive to grow their own food. They had nothing to do. And if the food supply chain did break down, they would have their own produce. We don’t know the future.”

The City of Summerside owns the land and the gardeners source their water from the former St. Eleanor’s Fire Hall. Each person is responsible for their own plot. This year, the group did buy 300 bags of mixed manure and compost to share. “The garden soil is good. The city spreads lime for us, and we do have a person who tills the soil as well,” said Ray.

As a community project, there is a plot that has been planted for the Summerside Food Bank and Soup Kitchen. “We are a community, we have to look after each other,” Ray added. Each gardener can enjoy a maximum of two plots. More than 70 percent of the keen gardeners are seniors—mostly retired—who love to be outside, stay active and are proud of what they and the gardens accomplish. Ray is really tickled, this year they welcomed a new kid. “He’s probably 10 or 12 years old. He’s been faithful to his garden. Oh boy, the next generation of gardeners!” beams Ray.

They like to try new things as well. This year they were set to bring in lady bugs (10,000 to 20,000) from Quebec or Ontario. Ray said, “COVID–19 again, everything fell apart. But we’re going to try next year. The lady bugs, if given the right kind of nest located in shade and released from their shipping containers at just the right time, will keep the gardens pest free. It’s natural!” As I walked the pathways winding through the various plots, I thought like Ray, “the garden is good.” Feel free to talk to Ray at 436-9520. The plots are just $10. Maybe there will be a spot for you next season.

Jan CoxWay Up West
Jan Cox

My partner and I moved to the island from Ottawa in August 2003. We quickly became avid fans of "The Buzz". I would search out the monthly read at the liquor stores of West Prince! I retired in June 2015 and found myself one afternoon, on a weekday no less, outside The Buzz office in Charlottetown. I met Peter and the gang and after singing the praises of the publication, suggested they needed a voice from West of Summerside. Me and my big mouth - three years later I am still writing "Way Up West" every month and it has been a joy. It's a win win - I get to work with a wonderful group of people at The Buzz and I am thrilled to be meeting folks from up west and area.