Sheridan’s Community Garden Project began as a grassroots initiative in 2016 and has been blossoming ever since. Now, as Sheridan’s campus greenspaces and hallways remain empty due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the garden initiative has transformed into a budding virtual community.
“We are all working or studying at home, so there is no better time to take up a new hobby like gardening,” explains Anna Pautler, Sustainability Officer at Sheridan. “Our Community Garden Facebook group provides a learning space for gardeners to share their gardening journey and pose questions to other members of the community. If an individual is having trouble with their plants, they can share photos and the community can weigh in with their advice – whether it’s regarding watering frequency, fertilizers, soil, or other issues. Employees and students of all skill levels are welcome in the group.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled food to be a top-of-mind subject, adds Melina Elia, an Employment Consultant at Sheridan who has been an active member of the Garden Committee since 2017. The pandemic has triggered curiosity among individuals about where their food is sourced from, as well as interest in self-sufficiency and sustainability.
“I’ve always loved fresh vegetables from the garden,” says Elia, who grew up gardening with her father in their backyard. “The current pandemic has prompted concerns about our food supply and possible food shortages, so it’s very valuable to have the ability and know-how to grow your own produce.”
Roughly 12 employees and co-op students helped bring the Community Garden to life when it began as a pilot project at Sheridan’s Trafalgar Campus in 2016, and the initiative has been blossoming since then. The initial number grew to 72 gardeners at the Trafalgar Campus in 2019 – the same year that a community garden officially launched at the Davis Campus in Brampton and was tended to by 24 gardeners.
The Community Garden acts as a peaceful sanctuary for participants and offers a supportive community, rewarding learning experience, health and wellness benefits, sense of accomplishment and so much more.
“My favourite part about the community garden was doing it as a team and getting to know new people,” says Savithri Sastri, Enrolment Marketing Manager at Sheridan, who participated in the 2019 growing season with a group of her coworkers. Her team grew a variety of fruits and vegetables including cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and even watermelon. “I had just started working at Sheridan in January of 2019, so it was a great way to make new friends. Tending to the garden was also a nice way to break up the workday to stretch my legs, get some sunshine and take a mental break.”
And while the pandemic has forced us to physically distance ourselves from one another, the community aspect of gardening that so many have come to cherish still flourishes because of the online group.
“Sheridan’s Community Garden has inspired me to garden at home,” says Sastri, who joined the Community Garden Facebook group for the 2020 growing season. “Last year, I bought some plants at the nursery and it was so great to see them thrive. This year, I tried growing some plants from seeds. Right now, I’ve got some peas, beans, squash and cilantro growing. I’m hoping I’ll see my experiments with tomato seeds and basil seeds work out.”
“The current pandemic has prompted concerns about our food supply and possible food shortages, so it’s very valuable to have the ability and know-how to grow your own produce.” – Melina Elia
There are more than 75 students and employees who have already joined Sheridan’s virtual garden community for the 2020 growing season, and the number is still growing. While the participants are physically distanced from one another, they remain connected and look forward to next summer, where they hope to reunite under blue summer skies and tend to the campus garden plots once more.
Pictured at top of page: Plant boxes in the Sheridan Community Garden at Trafalgar Campus in 2017.
Story written by: Darryn O’Malley, Portal Communications Officer at Sheridan.