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Community gardens project concept spurred by pandemic

When news of the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, Thaila Riden’s thoughts immediately turned to how he could ensure his family would always have a safe and stable supply of food.

“When the pandemic hit, it really struck home how quickly things can change – that harsh reality of where does our food come from and how do we make sure that we have something to eat?” Riden recalls.

“We’ve always had a garden here and we grow a lot of our own food, but a lot of people don’t have the kind of space we do.”

The Riden family owns a large rural property on County Road 10 east of Vankleek Hill, which was also the home of the Grand Barn campground until it closed after the 2016 season. They have their own large gardens for personal use, an immense barn and full water access around the entire property. Riden realized he could use the empty space where the trailers used to sit as a location for multiple individual garden plots which people could use to plant their own gardens. However by that time, it was already too late to implement the idea for the current season.

“The focus for this year was feeding our family, so we expanded our own personal gardens in the spring,” Riden says, pointing out individual sections of produce while conducting a tour of his family’s garden – which was doubled in size for 2020. “We decided if we were going to do this, we had to ensure we could help ourselves first before we could think of helping others.”

Once their own gardens were planted, thoughts turned again to the idea of modifying the old campground space into a community garden. At this point, Riden’s sister Celta joined the project and once on board, suggested the name ‘Homestead on Country Road 10’. Thaila Riden believes the moniker is perfect for the concept the family has in mind.

“The idea of the homestead was living off the land and doing the homestead approach to life in how you live sustainably, being self-sufficient and living a little more in harmony with nature,” he explains.

The plan would be to create affordable garden plots to rent seasonally to individuals who do not have sufficient gardening space of their own. If enough interest is shown, the Ridens would then approach the Township of East Hawkesbury to obtain a permit for the project, which is not expected to be an issue due to the property’s agricultural zoning. At that point, the existing water supply system could be upgraded to provide easy access for approximately 50 individual 20’x20′ garden plots.

“Working with the township is very important and once we have a better idea of where we are going and a sound business plan we will approach them with the concept,” Riden says. “We learned a lot with the campground and we want to ensure we develop the property in a way that falls within that agricultural designation.”

The family hopes to be able keep the cost below $100 to rent an individual space for a complete growing season and the plots could be shared to lower the costs even further. The price would include water and plots would be tilled and ready for planting in the spring.

“We want to keep it affordable – especially because some people may have to drive a bit of distance to get to their garden,” Riden explains. “The plots would be tilled and ready for planting at the start of the season so the growers can just focus on the garden itself.”

The Ridens are hoping to start renting plots in time for the 2021 growing season. For this year, a single test garden plot has been created, which a friend is using as his personal garden.

“At this point we are just developing the concept, but there are plans to expand and offer plots to community gardeners,” Riden stated. “We do have a lot of space here because this used to be a campground and there’s a lot of the infrastructure – like water – that is already there.”

For more information on Homestead on County Road 10 you can call Thaila Riden at 613-306-3453 or visit the project’s Facebook page Here

Test community garden plot
Thaila Riden shows the plot which is being used as a trial for his family’s Homestead on County Road 10 community gardens concept. If the project proceeds space exists for approximately 50 similarly sized plots which would be available for seasonal rental.

Reid Masson

Reid Masson is a graduate of Algonquin College's Journalism Program. He has over 20 years of experience as a staff writer and editor for various newspapers across Canada, including The Ottawa Citizen and Brockville Recorder and Times.

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