Grayson Onslow shows off his kale hat, freshly picked from the Blue River Community Garden this spring.

How Blue River’s Community Garden bloomed into existence

For about six years now the Blue River Community Garden has seen a slow and steady expansion from just eight garden boxes in an old tennis court, to the 30 box vegetable hub it’s now become.

The idea for the garden came in the fall of 2014, then operated by a small handful of volunteers, but when the project was taken over by Lee Onslow in 2018, things started to pick up.

“They had some success with it, but when I moved to town in 2017, that first summer it was just all weeds. I think they ran out of volunteers,” said Onslow.

“I asked if I could take over the space and become the garden coordinator. So I did and the first year there were four or five of us that would volunteer in the garden.”

Shortly after, Onslow applied for a grant from the North Thompson Communities Foundation (NTCF) to buy wood for more garden boxes to support her vision of creating a larger garden space and the foundation happily agreed.

She wanted to start a project that could actually feed a large amount of community members, and after finding a supplier in McBride that gave the volunteers a 50 per cent discount on rough-cut cedar, the garden’s expansion was well underway.

Onslow and co. bought about $1,800 in wood and over the past few years have managed to use it all, filling the old tennis court with 30 garden boxes, 10 of which are designated for community members who can stop by and freely pick vegetables they need.

“Volunteers have planted a few things, whether it’s a box of cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, zucchinis, peas, radish, or lettuce and all of those boxes have smiley faces on them,” Onslow said.

“There’s a sign on the gate that says help yourself to any box with a smiley face on it and then the other boxes belong to individuals in the community.”

While the community garden grew, so did its volunteer base, with roughly 30 volunteers now helping out with the project on a regular basis.

A screened-in gazebo was recently built on the grounds, which was also funded by the NTCF, and is used as a bug-free zone so those who visit can have a refuge from summer pests.

Materials for the gazebo were bought at a discount from Wells Gray Home Hardware and delivered for free to the garden site, and Onslow noted without that act of generosity, the project wouldn’t have been able to see completion.

The fact the site was an old tennis court also offers advantages as it came already fenced in and works to keep out the larger, more dangerous summer pests.

Onslow said one time when she was working away in the garden she got the feeling she was being watched and when she looked up, she saw she had a furry visitor supervising her work.

“I looked behind me and there was a little black bear that was just curious, but it was standing right up along the fence watching what I was doing. I was thankful for the fence,” she recalled with a laugh.

Becoming a member of the Blue River Community Garden is fairly simple, the only requirement to get a personal garden box is a pledge to complete two hours of volunteering per month, though the high demand has put the garden at capacity.

The volunteer work involves weeding, watering and general tidying of the space and Onslow said so far all the volunteers have been good about keeping up their ends of the bargain.

In order to get a garden box, interested residents can contact Onslow who has the sign-up sheets and a map of the garden that shows boxes when they become available.

For those who don’t want to start a box, but are interested in fresh produce, follow the Blue River Community Garden Facebook page for updates where Onslow posts pictures of the vegetables as they’re being harvested.

She added the responses are always well received and it feels good to know she’s providing the community with healthy food.

“It makes you feel good to be able to help people have good nutrition, have it available, and it’s just nice to see things grow,” she said.

The vision she had in the beginning, along with that of fellow volunteer Amy Venor who helps with a lot of the planning, has come to fruition and as for the garden’s future, Onslow said there may be room to expand, but it’ll have to wait a couple more years so the demand for it be gauged.

For more information on the Blue River Community Garden, Onslow can be contacted at onslow.llo@gmail.com

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The Blue River Community Garden has expanded from eight garden boxes to the 30 boxes that now fill the site. (L-r) Grayson and Richard Onslow sample some of the produce.

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