By Lindsay Briscoe
The older kids pulled yellow beans straight from their towering stocks and popped them in their mouths while the younger ones squealed with delight in the playground next door. Parents mingled and chit-chatted about the ups and the downs of the past season around a table covered in home-cooked food and lemonade.
August 29 was one of those picture-perfect late summer evenings when old and new friends came together to celebrate the official opening of the Muncipality of Red Lake Cochenour Community Garden with a ribbon-cutting and outdoor pot-luck.
Municipality of Red Lake councillor Debra Shushack says the evening made her think of what Cochenour used to be like when she grew up there.
“It’s so wonderful to see that it’s starting to come back and I just hope it infiltrates Balmertown and Red Lake,” she says. “Everybody coming together with all the corporations – it’s the way it should be.”
She was talking about all the local businesses and committees that donated time, finances and supplies like black earth, mulch, lumber and water barrels to help get the garden off the ground.
But Goldcorp Red Lake Gold Mines donated the land where the gardens grow and that was the very first step.
In the spring of 2012, Cochenour resident Chrissy St. Jean was worried that the land which was sitting empty next to the Cochenour playground was going to be turned into a Goldcorp parking lot. She expressed her concern to the company which agreed to donate the land for the garden. A lease agreement is in the works between Goldcorp and the Municipality.
“It’s a true partnership between Goldcorp, the Municipality and the gardeners,” said Goldcorp Red Lake Gold Mines General Mine manager Chris Cormier. “It’s a template for the rest of the communities to do the same thing.”
St. Jean says that she’s spoken to many people in the area about the idea of expanding the community garden.
“The interest is there, the right individuals just need to step forward,” she says.
Shushack points to the fact that the Cochenour garden came together quickly because St. Jean and Cochenour residents Karen Cormier and Sara Ramer-Dean approached the Municipality with a detailed plan of what they intended to do and how they intended to do it.
“How could you say no to something that’s all organized that isn’t going to be a tax burden to anybody?” says Shushack.
St. Jean says some people expressed concern about taking on a plot because they would be going on holidays over the summer. That wasn’t a problem because the other gardeners noticed when a plot needed some work and took the time to help each other out.
Cochenour resident and community gardener Roy Sidders says the gardeners even started playing little tricks on each other.
“We’ve done crazy things. We even snuck the odd seed into other people’s –friends’- gardens so there was a little bit of trickery and fun too.”
Sidders says the cut worms were the only real problem they encountered over the season and that since everyone over-planted to compensate, the harvest ended up being enormous.
The gardeners are excited for next season and have already started planning for an expansion. There were 21 plots this year and there’s room for more. They have permission to extend the garden up the hill to the edge of Mill Street.
St. Jean says the best thing about a community garden is that you never really fail because there’s always someone beside you to help.
“People say ‘I can’t grow anything, everything dies.’ No one’s failed in here this year and it’s because we all helped each other out,” she says.
The Red Lake Municipality Cochenour Community Garden would like to thank Goldcorp Red Lake Gold Mines, the Municipality of Red Lake and its Parks and Recreation department, Barrens North, The Change Room, the Green Committee, Allan Greene, Tim-Br Mart and Moncrief Construction of Kenora for their support.