Down and dirty in Dawson

They’re getting down and dirty in Dawson City – dirty actions of the gardening kind, that is.

Dawson City Community Gardens, now in its third year of existence, is alive and thriving with more people joining every year.

“It’s about coming together to develop relationships with the garden, each other and the community,” says Derrick Hastings, a volunteer and co-founder of the gardens.

“Food is not just about consumption but a connection to the plants … and you can’t really connect to food that comes from far away.”

The gardens consist of 4×8 foot boxes in several rows, with a long row in the back that will be planted for public use. They are located right behind the Trinke Zho Daycare centre and are in the middle of a playground, allowing the kids to play as well as learn about gardening.

“We thought that way the kids will grow up with the idea of sustainable living,” says Hastings – and they’ll have fun doing it too.

The gardens, run by a volunteer committee, have become so popular there is now a waiting list. Many gardeners return every year and keep the same box.

“That way,” says Katie English, garden coordinator, “they’ll learn about companion planting and really develop the proper soil.”

Gardeners sign a contract stating that they will maintain their boxes organically and will also be involved in monthly work parties.

“This is a community garden,” Hastings emphasizes. “It’s not just about the individual.”

The latest work party saw approximately 15 people show up on a warm Sunday afternoon. From the youngest to the oldest, everyone chipped in to load up and turn over manure in the compost bins, rake the soil or make small repairs.

Each work party lasts a couple of hours and many gardeners bring their children as well for a fun and satisfying afternoon in the sun. This community spirit, members say, makes it everyone’s garden.

The local school is also heavily involved with the gardens. This month, the shop class will be building a greenhouse for this summer’s use, and some of the students are helping to build a cabin that will be attached to the greenhouse and used as a resource centre.

The grade seven and eight classes will be creating a mural to decorate one of the buildings in the garden, and some of the students will be helping plant the garden beds in the back that are available throughout the summer to the public for grazing.

“When kids invest in something, they appreciate it”, says English.

The food studies class will also maintain a garden box. English goes into the school each February and helps students learn how to seed and start their plants.

Then in the spring, the seedlings will be planted. English is also working on developing on a permanent garden curriculum that will hopefully be offered to students in the near future.

Anyone can apply for a garden box; it’s free.

Some gardeners are heading into their first Northern gardening season. Molly MacDonald, originally from Hamilton, Ontario, is spending her first summer in Dawson working at the Dawson City Museum, where she worked for part of the winter in 2009. She has box number 22.

MacDonald likes growing her own food and has some background in gardening, but wants to learn as much as she can while she is here.

She is thrilled to be able to have acquired a box and to be planting and working in such a community atmosphere. She plans on growing all types of plants, including lettuce, sunflowers, peas, carrots and radishes, and even some edible flowers.

Even though MacDonald feels fairly comfortable with her plant-nurturing skills, she is plans to join several workshops that will be offered by the gardening committee throughout the summer. These workshops will be held every Thursday evening and are free to the gardeners, as well as to the public.

During these workshops, English and several other local growers will offer sessions on everything from advice for companion planting to growing plants that will encourage beneficial insects to come into the garden to help pollinate and keep detrimental insects at bay.

Other topics will include composting, edible weeds, and even something called keyhole gardening, which is an African style of gardening that works in soil as well as gravel.

“It’s all about promoting food security and teaching people how to apply this information to their own gardens,” says English.

For more information on the Dawson City Community Gardens, contact Marta Selassie at the Dawson City Recreation Centre, 993-2350.

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