After five seasons of bringing green thumbs together, and seeing the number of plots available more than double, the Altona Community Gardens are looking forward to even more growth this year. Spokesperson Jack Heppner says the space has become a meeting and gathering place for long-time residents and newcomers alike.

"Last year we had 110 plots that we rented, the plots are 15 by 45 feet," said Heppner. "Eighty-three families, a third of them were newcomers to Altona, so that creates a really interesting blend of different cultures, languages and personalities, a place of blending together and integrating, so it was a good experience working with all of them."

Heppner added the committee sees the garden as common ground, a place where newcomers can start the process of becoming part of the community and meet new people.

"Where do you meet people who've lived here longer, or speak a different language," reflected Heppner on those new to the community. "And so they have their plot, and they come to their plot, and then they have neighbouring gardeners all around them. They talk to each other. They share produce with one another, and become friends sometimes, so that's really interesting to see how it's kind of a  meeting place, an integrating place."

When the garden first started, there were about fifty plots, and the number is set to grow beyond the current 110 as the committee brings to completion its site improvement and pavilion project started in the Fall of 2021.

"We do have an accessible garden, which we're working on, which should have room for ten more gardens for people who are in need of a wheelchair or walkers," he explained. "You can walk up to the raised beds, and you can do the gardening right there on the cement pad, so it should be good for them."

The overall project will continue this year, and Heppner's hopeful those pieces will be completed by mid-Summer. That includes the creation of accessible garden plots, a paved pathway to the pavilion, the installation of a donated footbridge from the Town of Altona, and an art piece added to the inside of the pavilion.

"What happened was we were talking before we ran out of money because everything was really much more expensive than we had anticipated," he noted. "We had raised $175,000 for the project, and we thought that's lots, we have enough to finish, so we just carried on, and did our thing. By the end of August, we were running out of money, so then we set out to raise an additional approximately $50,000, which we thought we would need, and at this point, we have raised almost all of that." 

Heppner is particularly excited about the installation of the art piece.

"We're doing an art piece in the pavilion on the west side of the washroom," he said. "James Friesen, the guy who actually designed and built the pavilion, he's also doing this mural. It's a sunburst design, so he's already built it out of fir, painted it sunburst colours, and it will be installed as soon as things warm up."

Heppner feels residents will see progress throughout the Spring and early Summer, with the hope of holding a grand opening sometime in August. 

He's also hopeful they will get into the gardens much sooner this Spring compared to last year, noting it was June 9th before the plots were ready for planting.

"But in spite of the fact we were three weeks late getting started, I think we had the best crop ever!"