Kensington garden creation encourages community members to step forward

Sometimes an idea can be planted and grow quickly. Creating a community garden in Kensington was a thought for Jamie MacKay that grew as fast as a radish in summer soil.

MacKay’s passion for his community has filled up his schedule, and now his office. As the deputy provincial team lead for the Red Cross, he is busy with the latest addition to the local branch: short term health equipment rentals. His workspace is filled with blankets, coats, stuffed toys, and emergency personal care kits; and he’s added crutches, walkers, and other health equipment to their list of offerings. Along with the Red Cross work, he’s on the College of Piping board and does volunteer work with his church and other organizations.

But as the saying goes, ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person’. MacKay, a former councillor, is diving headfirst into his latest project and gathering folks around him to help. “Being around the community…I just know there’s a need,” he said. Specifically a need for a gathering place, a spot for people who might need a helping hand with putting food on the table.

Vegetables, berries, and possibly a small orchard of dwarf fruit trees; MacKay is not thinking small for the town’s new community garden. After approaching the council with his proposal, he remarks that it snowballed faster than he expected, “I was starting to work on it, and I approached the town and they brought it to a town meeting and the press was there, so it was released a lot faster than I thought it would be. And then I started getting emails.”

The town offered MacKay an empty lot on School Street, adjacent to the community pool. It’s currently covered in a blanket of snow, but MacKay is envisioning a garden with approximately 40 plots that will be 4’x8′, including some raised plots for seniors and people with mobility issues. He’s had many offers of help from other community members, which he is happy to take, since he willingly admits he doesn’t have a green thumb.

Ian Simmons, co-owner of Kool Breeze Farms in Summerside, is one of those who has come on board. “I think this is the way of the future, businesses like us that are in the ‘green’ business, right, need to help out communities that want to grow their own food, or get people out and get them active. It’s a great fit when you think about it,” Simmons said. Kool Breeze will be offering blight-resistant tomato plants for the garden as well as soil amendments and expert advice. Another local business owner, Kevin Kelly of Dynamic Developments, has also stepped up to assist. The landscape and general contracting company has offered equipment and time to get the land ready for planting with tilling, and helping to build the planter boxes. “I think it’s a wonderful idea,” he said. “I think it’s a good opportunity for the seniors in and around the community of Kensington. I like to help out with any projects that Jamie is on, ‘cause Jamie’s got quite few projects on the go and he’s a great advocate for helping out the community and I just like to be a part of that.”

Ross MacKay//submitted photo

MacKay sees the new community garden as a space that will provide food for individuals and various food-related programs in the area. “I helped with some funding for the breakfast program up at the [high] school, so I knew there was a need for food at the breakfast programs….I knew there was a need for various groups,” MacKay said. “The elementary school is taking on some plots, so between the teachers and the parent program, they’re going to take some on. I also have cadets and other groups who volunteered to help out.”

MacKay may also develop a memorial park in a separate location. He is working with a local farmer and the park concept is for people to plant a fruit tree in memory of someone, thus creating a 3 or 4 acre orchard to contribute to the local food programs.

If all goes according to his vision, the garden will be “100 percent free”. There is no cost for the plots and he plans on offering free seeds and plants. According to MacKay, local MLA Matthew MacKay has “been extremely supportive as well, doing everything he can to give me a hand. He steered me in the direction to hopefully get a provincial grant…and if that doesn’t work out, I have had people offer to sponsor plots.”

He envisions a garden that gives back to the community in the same way as his father, Ross MacKay, did. As a way to honour his father, who passed away in May 2016, the garden will be named Ross’ Place. MacKay said, “He spent his whole life doing what he could to help anyone he could, in any way he could.”
It appears that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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