Community members built more than veggie beds as they constructed a garden at Courtenay Elementary School — they built relationships, too.
Courtenay Elementary School, the Wachiay Friendship Centre and the Comox Valley Family Services Association built the first phase of the community garden in partnership with one another.
“Realistically, we all kind of support the same families anyways, in different ways, so it makes sense to work together on things,” says Courtenay Elementary principal Kyle Timms. “We’re all in the business of supporting families and kids.”
A large crowd gathered in the garden last Wednesday, as kids, parents, teachers, school officials and community members joined for the grand opening of the garden. New York-based singer/songwriter Jesse Ruben — who was in the Valley last week to help students with I Can projects — performed for the crowd.
So far, a fence has been built around the garden, 12 raised garden beds have been constructed and many of them planted, plus a large shed was built and a fence was put in around the garden.
The Friendship Centre FASD Key Worker program’s Allison Abraham, notes youth from the centre built the shed along with some help from elders.
She says the project is a great way to build relationships within the friendship centre, with the school and with families in the community in general.
“I try to create opportunities for my families to interact with the community and interact with each other so it was just another great way to connect,” she says. “A few of my families, their children attend Courtenay El, and it just seemed like a great bridge between the Friendship Centre and the school and getting our families involved in multiple ways,” she adds.
Jane Hughes, Healthy Families program manager for the Family Services Association, points out Comox Valley School District maintenance staff helped construct the garden and set up a watering system for the summer.
Families from the association and members of the Friendship Centre will care for the garden while the school is closed for the summer.
Hughes adds the fence surrounding the garden is simply to designate the area and anyone who would like to work in the garden is more than welcome to.
Timms notes students are excited about the new garden. They are learning about growing food, and will be planting some winter vegetables when they come back to school in the fall, but he adds the long-term goal is really about connecting them to their community.
“Having the kids out there doing something good for other people, you know, school isn’t just about being in school anymore — we want kids to connect, we want them to give back, we want them realize that there’s more out there than just themselves and the school,” he says.
The Comox Valley School District provided some funding for the garden, and will continue to do so on a yearly basis to help with ongoing maintenance costs. Other community supporters are: Central Builders Supply, Coastal Community Credit Union, Vancouver Island Enterprises, Black Gold Landscape Supply and the Kiwanis Club of Courtenay.
The Family Services Association and the Friendship Centre have both contributed some of their grant funding toward the garden, and Hughes notes she will apply for some more grants to expand and enhance the garden in the future. She also says more community groups will likely become involved in the project.
“We’ve had other community members express an interest in joining us,” continues Hughes. “We decided that in the fall, when the garden season is wrapping up, we’re going to start letting people know who’ve expressed an interest that we would love to have it be a larger community garden.
“So we’re going to be working on that — that’s our next step.”
She notes the garden beds already built will likely be the only formal piece of the garden as it’s developed in the future.
“We have all kinds of ideas, and some really lovely, fun kinds of garden space that we can develop,” adds Hughes, noting the partnership has gone extremely well so far.
“And, I think it’ll get even better once we have more people added in the mix.”