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Newmarket community garden events grow fruit and friendships

The garden serves as a space for people to connect over art events and cooking workshops

It's not just vegetables growing at the London and Main community garden in Newmarket. It's also connections, cooking skills and art. 

"We see that the garden is such a great communal space, especially in light of everything that happened with COVID. We think that it's an awesome opportunity, an awesome place to get inspired, particularly, as well as make connections," said Jake Sponga, Newmarket community garden coordinator with York Region Food Network. 

Throughout the summer, the garden has become a space for community events. One of the ongoing events is called Art Hives. Participants come to the garden and are given all the supplies they need to create a masterpiece. Under the guidance of a qualified art therapist, they are encouraged to find inspiration in the garden. 

"We don't want to think of it just as a setting, but almost as a dynamic muse," Sponga said. 

Art Hive is not a class, he added. Participants aren't being judged or limited but rather encouraged to explore and connect. 

"We want to just kind of promote connections, you know, friendship and being outdoors, which I think has been what people are really missing after the past two years," he said. 

Art Hive events were held prior to the pandemic but this is the first year they've been able to hold them since COVID-19 hit. There have been two art hive events so far this summer. Prior to that, York Region Food Network also held a rhubarb workshop. 

Maxine Knight, culinary program director with the food network, leads cooking workshops throughout the region. At the end of June, she led one at the London and Main garden that Sponga said "detailed all sorts of different unconventional ways that you could cook with rhubarb." 

Attendees walked away with rhubarb harvested from the garden and recipes to try out for themselves, including rhubarb salsa and rhubarb barbecue sauce. 

The community garden isn't particularly product or yield oriented, Sponga said. While growing fresh, local produce is an important part of the gardens, he said creating a community space is just as important. 

"The philosophy of the garden is share the work, share the harvest, but we'd like to put a lot of emphasis on the first part of that statement, which is this idea of forming camaraderie and connections and community growth through the actual gardening itself," he said. 

These community events are an example of that. They are also completely free to attend. 

Given the success of the past two art hive events, Sponga said they are planning to hold at least one or two more before the garden season is done but there is no set date at this time. Residents are encouraged to join the London & Main Community Garden Facebook group to stay updated about what's happening there. 

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Elizabeth Keith

About the Author: Elizabeth Keith

Elizabeth Keith is a general assignment reporter. She graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2017. Elizabeth is passionate about telling local stories and creating community.
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