Gérard Forget looks across the ice rink at his garden plot. One can imagine his mind is underneath the snow, working into the dirt with springtime dreams of peas, corn, and beans.
Forget coordinates the Alberta Avenue Community Garden-Jardin Communautaire Alberta Avenue. At this time of the year, he plans the garden and finds gardeners who want to share their passion with their neighbours.
“We are one of only two bilingual gardens in the Edmonton area,” said Forget.
A Franco-Albertan, Forget grew up on a farm near Peace River. He and his wife Jocelyn have three daughters and six grandchildren. He is educated in agriculture and business administration, two skills he used as a producer to bring his goods to market across northern Alberta.
“I know my weeds, I know my pests, I know different things so that if a plant doesn’t look right, I know how to find the information. I know my soils. Before we started, we got a soil test so we have a clue what we should be adding. We were very low on organic matter, so we’ve been adding that for years,” he said.
Since his retirement as manager of La Cité Francophone in 2011, he is busier than ever. Not only does Forget attend to his arugula, he’s an active community league director, a long-term festival volunteer, and a founding member of the Société de Radio Communautaire du Grand Edmonton, a group committed to bringing francophone community radio to Edmonton.
“The community radio should be on the air in plus or minus one year. There’s still a lot of work to do, and we got to find people with the knowledge that we need to do that.”
Forget also plays guitar and piano everyday. I’m told he picks up a harmonica occasionally, is a self-taught musician, and regularly plays with friends.
“We play every two weeks at the hall during the wintertime. We have a jam session and we have a big group of people,” he said.
He explained community gardening is a great option for people. “If they don’t have enough space in their backyard to [grow] a big enough garden for what they want…or they live in an apartment and they want to grow things for fresh food.”
The community garden helps Forget enjoy his third passion: engaging with people. He has a gift for connecting with people of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life.
“I like to meet people, I’m a socializer. I like to meet new people and talk about music, gardening or a little bit of politics, community organizing, it’s the same thing all over. I like to make connections, I’m a connector.”
This intergenerational socializing is what makes community gardening so much more than a food plot. Talking to a neighbouring gardener about food is a powerful tool in building community resiliency. It engages everyone in an activity where traditions are passed, food is grown, and communities are built.
“From very young to very old, it goes right from teenagers to seniors, we have everybody,” he said.
Forget leads a diverse group of gardeners, bringing his agricultural training and gardening experience to a community of gardeners with horticultural practices from around the world. This wide range of experience expands everyone’s knowledge base.
The Alberta Avenue Community League is currently accepting applications for garden plots. Apply online at albertaave.org or in person during office hours. Priority is given to previous gardeners and Alberta Avenue residents. Gardeners require a league membership ($20 for a family or $10 for a single membership), a $20 plot rental fee (includes tilling), and a volunteer commitment of four hours.
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