Intrepid gardeners dig in to Keele campus’s Maloca garden


Above: Some of last year’s bountiful harvest from Maloca Community Garden

Jen Johnson, York women’s studies PhD student, sent the following article to YFile about the Maloca Community Garden, which is on the southwest corner of York’s Keele campus. The photos below, taken at the Maloca Community Garden, are by Rajiv Rawat. 

Digging, heavy lifting and weeding doesn’t sound like a typical way to celebrate May Day, a day for workers to relax and celebrate. Yet on Saturday, May 1, more than 35 intrepid gardeners from York’s vibrant on- and off-campus community officially opened the gardening season as they braved the windy day for the Maloca Community Garden’s first annual Spring Dig-In.

The community garden is one of York’s best kept secrets. It is a place to get away from the classroom, the concrete and the stresses of the city. People can hardly believe it when they see this huge garden at York in full bloom, come August.

The gardeners attempted to cut down on the heavy labour by renting a sod cutter this year, explained Jake Mitchell, a coordinator for the  Maloca Community Garden Collective and a York Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) student. “We’re expanding the garden to accommodate new members and new varieties of vegetables. We’ve been entrusted with some rare varieties of seeds and need more space to grow them.”

Mitchell said the garden runs organically, that is, with only natural fertilizers and pest-control methods. “This is really important because we are so close to the Black Creek Conservation Area. We think it is possible to grow great food and do it safely.”

As more people joined in during the day, gloves were handed out, a compost pile was started with hay from the previous gardening season, and the sod was turned over. The compost pile will be used in coming years to enhance the garden beds with vital and useful nutrients.

“I like community gardening because I don’t have to provide my own stuff. Our membership and garden renewal fees cover the seeds, the ground is easier to dig when you have company and I can get involved in the group and not worry about buying tools and other things,” said new member Krista Johnston.

Shana Calixte and Rajiv Rawat, two Maloca coordinators, welcomed new people as they arrived, telling them a bit about the history of the garden and the plans for the coming season. The garden has been around since 1999 and was started by FES student Angela Simone, with the support of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group and other local community gardens. The garden occupies approximately 6,000 square feet of University land, and has official club status, registered with York’s Office of Student Affairs.

This year the garden is enjoying financial support from Bethune College Pepsi Fund and the Central Fund Administration Working Group at York. Additionally, the results of a significant donation of irises and tulips, by York political science and women’s studies Professor Janice Newton, are beginning to show.

Families, including many children, stopped by to lend a hand, digging up weeds, turning over the soil and collecting garbage from the surrounding area. Several of the young participants “helpfully” collected snails and earthworms.

As the Spring Dig-In came to an end, new members lined up to join the garden’s listserv and find out when the next meeting would be held. The coordinators anticipate that as more people hear about this event and the garden, the membership will continue to grow. “We aim for accessible gardening and hope that more and more people will get involved,” said Calixte.

Students, staff and faculty can become Friends of the Garden for $10. An additional $10 contribution to the garden renewal fund entitles you to garden with the group or bring a non-York affiliated friend or partner to the garden. Gardeners meet at the plot west of the Passy Gardens graduate residences on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons at communal worktimes. To join, click here where you can also see scenes of Maloca Community Garden’s Spring Dig-In, including a short QuickTime video, by following the link to the “Gallery”.