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Friday , 5 March 2021
A diagram showing where the St. Paul Community Garden Society plans to build their greenhouse for composting.

Community Garden Society expands compost program

A new greenhouse and compost initiative is coming to St. Paul thanks for funding from Agriculture Canada and the volunteers at the St. Paul Community Garden Society.

According to David Robinson, the chairperson for the society, the greenhouse they will be building this spring is a continuation of the garden expansion the society undertook last year.

“This three-year plan we have now, which we have funding for, we’re going to build a greenhouse compost shelter, so that we can compost inside the shelter. And then we’ll use the heat from the compost in the spring so that we can start our greenhouse operations earlier,” said Robinson.

In years two and three of the project the group plans to continue scaling up its compost production.

Agriculture Canada awarded just shy of $50,000 to the St. Paul Community Garden Society to use over the three years of the project.

Robinson said the biggest expenses will be the greenhouse structure, estimated at $25,000 and the compost screener, estimated at $10,000. The compost screener is a sieve-like piece of equipment that sifts out the lumps and clumps in the compost, so the final product is a finer material.

The greenhouse structure will be built on the east end of the garden, along the fence shared with the Capella Centre.

According to Robinson, the process of composting itself is nothing new to their volunteers. They’ve been producing about 30 cubic metres of compost per year since they started in 2013.

“With our compost shelter and our tractor now we’re hoping to double that as we go along. The intent is to increase the amount of compost we produce each year,” said Robinson, noting all of what is currently produced gets used by their gardeners.

“If we’re producing enough, then we’re going to either distribute it to residents, or at a slight charge. But that’s two or three years from now,” said Robinson.

A big portion of the compost material comes directly from the community garden in the form of waste plant tops and other vegetation left behind after harvest in the fall.

“We started composting because we’re very cash strapped and it was expensive to haul stuff away to the landfills; like all the vegetation we would have been having to haul to the transfer station. So to keep those costs to a minimum we started composting all that material,” said Robinson.

“As soon as we started composting we had gardeners who were able to use up the compost we produce, so it’s a beneficial thing for everybody. And we realized how it is a benefit to the environment to not be landfilling all this organic material,” said Robinson.

He said gardeners also bring their grass clippings, leaves, coffee grounds, and other organic waste from home and the garden society works with the St. Paul and District Food Bank and the Second Harvest project to maximize their opportunity for compost.

Second Harvest collects fruits and vegetables which are no longer shelf-worthy but from Sobey’s and Cornerstone Co-op and redistributes through the food bank. Robinson said approximately 20 per cent of what is collected by Second Harvest is no longer fit for human consumption and that gets given to the garden society for their compost.

He said the Community Gardens have approximately 40 plots available for use each year and usually sees them used by 20 to 25 different gardeners. He noted some large families use more than one plot and there is a large plot dedicated to the food bank and tended by the food bank’s volunteers.

At the regular town council meeting Jan. 25, St. Paul Town Council briefly discussed how the greenhouse and compost project fits with their strategic plan.

“I think it’s great what they’re doing, and I think once we’ve completed and passed our strategic plan the Community Garden Society would be a wonderful organization to partner with specifically on the sustainability piece,” said Coun. Nathan Taylor.

One of the ideas mentioned under environmental stewardship in the proposed strategic plan is to develop and promote local and/or residential composting programs.

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.