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Gardening Spotlight: Amy Sykes, Volunteer Coordinator at the Acton Community Garden

Amy Sykes was on a walk one day with her friend Chantal Garneau, who works at P.O.W.E.R. (Protect Our Water and Environmental Resources). Garneau mentioned that they were looking to find someone to manage the Acton Community Garden for 2021 after the garden remained dormant during the 2020 season due to COVID-19. 

At the time, Amy was thinking about what she wanted to do with her time, especially during COVID-19. She was looking to find ways to get involved in the community, and working to address food insecurity and food waste in her community sounded right up her alley. She has a special interest in locally grown food and making it more accessible to people in Halton Hills. 

They had their initial conversation in April, and within a month, they were starting to get their hands dirty in the garden! She joined the Halton Food team as the Volunteer Coordinator and has been an integral part of the Acton Community Garden since. The garden has transformed from 20 beds full of weeds to an overflowing garden, donating weekly to Food For Life run out of St. Alban’s Anglican Church just down the road. 

Gemma Patey, Amy Sykes, and Helen Stephenson; July 14, 2021 during garden tour night with Mayor Rick Bonnette and Town Councillors.

Amy sees the value of community gardening as an opportunity for people to experience the growing of a garden without having to take it all on by themselves. Everyone can observe, learn, take part, and benefit from it without requiring the big costs, resources, and knowledge it takes to start one themselves. They get to water and taste and harvest and give back to the community they are a part of. Essentially, she views the garden as a place to experience locally grown food.

Amy has been a gardening enthusiast for the past 5 years, and before that was always in and around gardens. But a task the size of the community garden – 20 beds and a wide variety of plants – was a learning curve. She says that sometimes felt like she never knew what was going to happen next, but was excited by this feeling!

Something Amy has learned over the growing season is that specialization in a few vegetables might be better for starting off a garden, rather than jumping into as many species as possible. When there are too many species, it is trickier to spot small changes and manage the needs of all the plants. 

In future years, Amy thinks it is best to have the end goals in mind – which plants will the community want and need. Programs to elevate the harvesting process, such as canning tomatoes or pickling cucumbers are just some of the ideas she has for the future. Thoughts around where to go next year and working with partners is something always at the back of her mind.

Harvested produce is donated to local food programs.

Going forward, involving the community further is her main goal. Encouraging local support and leadership of the garden is essential in making sure the Acton Community Garden is as sustainable as possible. Growing the network of people, both the ones we’ve already connected with, and the ones we’ve still yet to meet, is just as important as growing the plants. 

The most important tip Amy has is about her favourite gardening tool, the Gardening Bandit. Maintaining the garden is one of the most dreaded tasks, but this weeding tool has saved many backs and knees, and is something Amy would suggest every gardener has! 

If you’re looking to get involved in the Halton Hills community, Amy says this is your chance! The harvesting season will last well into the fall, and we’re always looking for more volunteers! If you’re interested in volunteering at the Acton Community Garden, feel free to contact actoncommunitygarden@gmail.com. Find out more by following the garden on social media

Questions? Please email us at grow@haltonfood.ca.

Contributed by Gemma Patey, Community Garden Assistant

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