Community Stories:

Strathmore - How to Grow a Community Garden

HEAL is a healthy community coalition that has been active in Strathmore since 2007. 

Strathmore’s Communities in Bloom started a community garden 10 years ago but recently relocated across the street from Wheatland Montessori Elementary School. 3 of the Garden of EAT’N plots have been reserved for students to get their hands dirty and learn from experience. Recently the school reached out to Robert Breitwieser, a garden member, asking how they could develop a school garden of their own.

Robert was raised in Gardenville and says that gardening is “in his blood”. He is an active community member, living in Strathmore for many years and volunteering on a variety of societies including Communities in Bloom, HEAL, Lion’s club and more. Robert is a visionary leader and is skilled at connecting with community members, he recognizes individual strengths and how each person can contribute to making Strathmore a healthy community.

The Plan

Robert and his wife Sandy have been teaching children about gardening and importance of growing your own bounty. Robert believes that teaching gardening leads to earth stewardship or environmental citizenship. Robert shows that when we work together, people will share and connect. The children also learn how planning is essential when working together successfully.

Another teaching point has to do with sunscreen protection.  They encourage the students to wear wide brim hats, sun glasses and sunscreen.  HEAL donates sunscreen samples for each student.

Robert and Sandys favorite things is to see the delight in the children’s faces when they discover how the tiny seed they planted a few months ago has now turned in to a carrot they just pulled from the earth. Robert says “the tree I planted when I was 7, is still there today and provides enough oxygen for 10 people to live and breathe, I love teaching this to students. They have so many interesting questions and I love the curiosity they have for our earth”

Robert and Sandy are known as the Garden Guy and Garden Gal to the students and will often be called that when out and about in Strathmore.

The Outcomes

After reaching out to key partners and explaining the vision of the new school garden, donations were provided from Communities in Bloom, HEAL, Parent Council and the Educational Partnership Foundation to start the garden. Robert’s connections with the lumber yard owner lead to donations of supplies, and the shop teacher at the local high school made building the garden boxes a class project. An ongoing partnership with Home Hardware supplies thousands of seeds at the end of each season to be gifted to community members to use the following year.

To engage the children in getting excited about the garden, the school created a fun “Name the Garden” contest. 60 students submitted ideas. Robert put together a garden growing kit which was awarded to the student who won the contest at a school assembly. “Wakapa’s Garden” was the winner! Wakapa is the name of the school mascot and means “excellence”. A sign and bench are under construction and will display the garden name and give thanks to those who made the garden possible.

Communities in Bloom has a spring event every year to kick off the season. Donated seed packages are available for people to take for free. Each year a speaker presents about garden related theme such as ‘growing organic’ or ‘learn to compost’. The town donates a room to host the event, 60 people attended last year.

In 2018 a new initiative called Backyard Bounty was started. Strathmore wants to encourage people to donate their abundant produce they have to any resident who may benefit from it. A Facebook page connects residents to a healthy supply of produce.

To make community initiatives work, Robert says “Try to pick a project that’s doable, start small so you can see early successes that can be built on. Look for the many gifts people have to contribute!”

Robert always seeks opportunities to attend events such as the Healthy Community Symposium hosted by Alberta Healthy Communities, AHS and Communities Choosewell. He says that free events always spark interest and inspire new ideas.

Ways to take action: Community Strategies - Mental Health