In Growing Possibilities: Stories from the Guelph-Wellington Urban Agriculture Challenge, 10C Shared Space’s Urban Sustainability Activator Vicky Huang shares the incredible initiatives led by local champions of urban agriculture and funded through Harvest Impact, a project of 10C and Our Food Future’s Guelph-Wellington Urban Agriculture Challenge.
For our fourth installment, Vicky visits Joy Sammy and Dan Evans of Goldie Park to learn about the new projects that are feeding our community.
“Rainwater Harvesting Bench by Goldie Park Community Garden”, a blue-and-white sign came into view as I looked beyond the big wooden posts that welcomed me into Goldie Park. There, I met Joy and Dan, two community members of the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition (GNSC) who orchestrated the Goldie Park Rainwater Harvesting Bench community project.
The story of the Goldie Park Rainwater Harvesting Bench:
The Goldie Park Community Garden was established in 2016 by eager community gardeners, who were so excited after obtaining approval from the City of Guelph. Even though the garden didn’t have any water supply apart from rainwater, its community plots were still cherished by the community gardeners who took measures to overcome that challenge. Most of the community gardeners brought their own water from their homes to water the plants, and planted plants that didn’t need too much water such as strawberries, rhubarb, and perennial herbs.
Despite the garden’s productivity, it was clear that the lack of water on site was a challenge and major limitation that needed to be addressed. So, when Joy and a fellow coworker, Jordan found a photo of a rainwater harvesting bench on Pinterest, the idea to implement that for this garden sparked. The photo was simply an illustration however, with no description or instructions. The rainwater harvesting bench depicted had a flexible roof made of vinyl or cloth, which would act as a funnel when it rained to collect the water through the centre into a barrel. It was innovative, inspiring, and with the opportunity of funding through the GWUAC, Joy wrote an application for the “Shovel and Fork” fund, which would go on to win the project $2000.
Goldie Park & the GWUAC: A Rainwater Harvesting Bench
Through the funding of the GWUAC, Joy and Dan were able to purchase the materials needed for the bench as well as offer stipends for two of their main helpers, Ben and Jordan (another Jordan) - two community members who helped with the design and building of the bench. Ben’s design skills helped bring the illustration into a feasible plan for a bench. They had altered the design so that instead of a flexible funnel-shaped roof that would be difficult to execute, it would be a slanted roof that collected the rainwater through an eavestrough into the barrels. Jordan is a carpenter, invaluable to the building process of the bench as well as making sure that the design was as simple and straightforward as possible for others (who may not be carpenters) to follow.
Some of the funding also provided lunch throughout the community build, as well as resources for their in-park engagement events. Their latest event on October 30th, a Community Pumpkin Carving event, was a big success! Over 60 community members came to carve and paint pumpkins, and hot cider and hot chocolate were served through meaningful discussions about the bench, the park, and future endeavours.
With the little portion of the funding left, Joy and Dan are planning to build a community notice board to put on the bench. It would have information about the bench as well as upcoming events and announcements within the community.
The impact of the Goldie Park Rainwater Harvesting Bench
“What the GWUAC funded isn’t just a rainwater harvesting bench. It’s also a social cohesion piece.” - Dan Evans, Gardener, Junction Neighbourhood Group member, GNSC Neighbourhood Development Supervisor
The impact of the rainwater harvesting bench goes significantly beyond its rainwater collection, which already makes a world of difference for the garden as it had no water supply prior. The social impact is immeasurable, yet very visible. I will try to paint a picture of this impact below.
Dan recounted to me that within the first two weeks of the bench being built, it was already buzzing with activity. There were dog-walkers who would rest on the bench, kids who would meet up there after school, and parents who would sit there while their children played in the playground beside.
It was a talking piece. The GWUAC signage identified the structure and intrigued passersby who were welcomed to take a second look. The continued connections and engagement that the bench added to the park is not captured in its monetary value, but rather a value that can inspire other community projects to take shape.
“To have community projects that can be funded and created is encouraging not only for the people who do it, but also for those who witness it. It’s a beacon of hope that you can do things in your own neighbourhood, that isn’t selfish, not just in your backyard, but for the community and with the community.” - Dan Evans
Dan continued to describe that projects like these work in opposition to only caring for yourself or your household, and puts resources, time and people together into a public space that perhaps doesn’t otherwise get much attention. Watching projects like the Rainwater Harvesting Bench grow makes for a hopeful kind of reflection, where neighbours can get together and do things. Having the bench so visible is very valuable, because it’s hard to see that sometimes.
“This was a piece of unused grass. And now it’s this. So if you don’t put the shovel into the grass because you’re afraid of a certain institution that governs you or because you don’t have the skill or the ability or the access but your neighbours come along and help, then it can become a reality.” - Dan Evans
Another theme that the Rainwater Harvesting Bench stands for (while it literally stands), is the possibility of institutions and community members to work together and create positive changes. As Dan puts it, sometimes transforming an idea into something bigger is as easy as calling the City. Through projects like this, he comments, community members can participate in working with the City in ways that are positive, engaging, and mutually-beneficial.
This bench demonstrates that exact possibility, as well as the potential in letting community members engage with your ideas and taking their suggestions as an invitation to collaboration - and making it into a larger community project.
Working with others at the Rainwater Harvesting Bench
Throughout the Community Building day, Joy and Dan recalled at least ten community members who stopped by to see what’s going on. They loved talking to passersby about their project, and loved how open their build was to the public eye.
Working with Ben and Jordan was also highly insightful due to the learning and skill-sharing that was involved. From learning the different types of gravel (did you know there were 13 types?) to choosing nuts and bolts, to experiencing the process of procuring materials as a carpenter opened a new world of how carpenters work.
The bench offers a new way for the Junction neighbourhood to engage with the Goldie Park Community Garden. Local schools, churches and community gardeners have all come to visit and help out at the bench.
Next Steps for the Rainwater Harvesting Bench
The next steps for the Rainwater Harvesting Bench are quite exciting. First, Joy and Dan are looking to make a “How-To” guide, outlining step-by-step instructions and the process of replicating it. A video with a voiceover detailing the process may also be made, as they had taken pictures of each step while they were building the bench.
Another goal for this bench is to inspire other, new rainwater harvesting benches in the city. Even though most of the $2000 funding went towards materials, Dan and Joy estimated that with the cost of lumber going down (the past year’s price was almost double the normal) as well as with more experience, they could bring the cost down to a more affordable price and could probably build two benches for the price of this one. That means that future benches like this could potentially be built for half the price, lowering the barrier to taking this project on.
The most inspiring goal for me, however, is hearing about how a bench like this can open up new opportunities for community gardens. Usually, community gardens can only be approved and built where there is a water source nearby (i.e. from a school, church, or other public water source). This is quite limiting, so being able to have a water harvesting bench as a viable water source allows for new locations anywhere that wouldn’t have been possible before. This bench at Goldie Park is a living example, and is truly spearheading this possibility.
Listening to Joy and Dan talk about the Goldie Park Rainwater Harvesting Bench made me realize that when they look at the wood-and-metal structure, they really don’t see it as a bench. Instead, they see it as what means to the community: a social cohesion piece that states the possibilities of institutional engagement, grassroot organization, and community skill-sharing loud and proud.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn firsthand about this project that will transform the scene of community gardening in Guelph and beyond.
Stay tuned for the next blog post in this series of Guelph’s newly-innovated urban agriculture projects! (Spoiler: I visit the Compost Queens of the Royal City and their breathtaking Compost System Rebuild at Huron Street Community Garden next!)
This is the fourth installment within the "Growing Possibilities: Stories from the Guelph-Wellington Urban Agriculture Challenge" series. All installments of this series can be found here. The third installment was on the story of Community Spirit Through Community Gardens between the Two Rivers Huron Street & Lyon Park Community Gardens.