On a dusty plot in the southwest corner of Airdrie, you’ll find a three-year-old toddling around with a mini wheelbarrow doing his best to pick weeds around tomatoes.
Perhaps doing more harm than good, according to Jenn Katerina, who created Airdrie Urban Farm Collective in spring 2021.
The idea was to create a space where people from all walks of life could gather outdoors to learn about growing food by getting their hands dirty – and eventually enjoy the fruits of their labour.
“It’s not like a community garden where everyone gets their own space. Here, everyone does everything together. We all plant, water, tend and harvest everything together as a community,” says Katerina.
“Airdrie needed something like this. We needed a place where people could come and learn how to grow food and actively participate by doing it themselves. It just brings a sense of community when we are all working together.”
It was inspired by Grow Calgary Farm, one of the largest urban community farms in Canada that grows fresh produce for social agencies in Calgary.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Airdrie Urban Farm Collective got its start when DayBreak Community Church loaned Katerina a half acre of land that hadn’t been used in some time. It was previously a soccer field, which meant the ground had little grass and was seriously compacted with gravel and clay.
Katerina says they spent most of their first growing season working the ground, eventually building around 40 “lasagna beds” by layering large pieces of cardboard with straw, manure, food waste and topsoil.
At the end of the season, there were 220 pounds of potatoes, 2,000 tomatoes and “more beets than you would ever believe,” Katerina says.
“We relied on everything last year to be donated to us down to literally our last shovel. The dirt, the woodchips, even the cardboard that we used were all donated to us.”
Icing on the carrot cake
In 2022, Katerina is looking to double their yield. She hopes to partner with Airdrie Food Bank and other local organizations needing fresh produce.
The Farm is also reaching out to local artists to help brighten up their sheds and chicken coops.
A new irrigation system to water plants is also in the works by volunteers. Last year, they simply trudged back and forth from a single well on the property with watering cans.
“We have some pretty dedicated volunteers. We had an 85-year-old man with his cane come to help in whatever capacity he could for however long he could,” says Katerina.
She says the Farm is always looking for volunteers, donations or sponsors to continue developing the space.
“There’s a ton of people who just don’t have the opportunity to grow things from their homes. I think everybody deserves to have fresh produce and access to different fresh food,” says Katerina.
“So an opportunity to have that experience and learn about where their food comes from and how it grows is just icing on the cake. The carrot cake.”