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HELPERS: Community involvement is the greatest crop to come from Midland's gardens

Volunteer Julie Barker has both a green thumb and a green heart
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Julie Barker of Midland, a retired teacher and prominent community supporter, is a common sight at the Midland Community Garden in Little Lake Park. The non-profit organization mentors volunteers with efforts involving gardening and self-sustenance regarding agriculture.

The heart of volunteering for a community involves ensuring everyone is taken care of and looked after, for not only this generation but also for future generations to come.

Julie Barker, an 84-year-old resident of Midland and former teacher, has become the heart and soul of the Midland Community Gardens in Little Lake Park.

“It was back in the late 1960s,” Barker reminisced, “that (my husband and I) were looking for a few acres to have a picnic on, and we ended up buying a 200-acre farm (in Tiny Township). We were part of the ‘back-to-the-land’ enthusiasts, back in the 1970s and 1980s. So we were excited about learning about how to farm, and wondering if we could become self-sufficient food-wise on that farm.”

Barker gained recognition in 2017 as an Midland Award of Merit recipient for her engagement with community efforts over the decades.

The Midland Community Gardens was established as a non-profit organization in 2011, with Barker becoming vice-president along with co-founder Laura Jane Wilson.

Also present at the initial meeting was current treasurer Susan Hirst of Tiny Township.

“My father would be my main inspiration,” stated Hirst on her gardening origins. “I grew up in Scarborough, so not on a farm or anything. But he grew flowers, and I got interested in gardening through that aspect. When I got my own house, I grew flowers and then I thought, ‘well why not vegetables as well?’”

Starting with an initial motto of “Share The Work, Share The Harvest," the Midland Community Gardens was a prominent contributor to local food banks and restaurants.

Said Barker of that initial year, “We had a lot of surplus food because we had a fair number of volunteers and it was a small section (of Little Lake Park); we were able to keep on top of it. And nobody knew about it, so we didn’t have a lot of food walking away.

“We’ve since moved from that because it was too much,” explained Barker. “We had a certain amount of land that was allotted to us, and we were having trouble taming it and producing food, which was our first focus. But we learned we couldn’t do that in an unfenced area.”

The Community Gardens' motto has evolved into “Feeding Each Other, Together” over the past decade, growing into its latest incarnation as a place where some of the garden beds can be rented out for the season at a cost of $20 per 8-foot-by-4-foot bed.

Barker’s hands-on experience with agriculture throughout her lifetime is not to be taken lightly, and she has concerns regarding the viability of self-sustained farming within the current climate emergency.

Earlier this month, popular science magazine Scientific American published an article whereupon 13,000 scientists have agreed that “the adverse effects of climate change are much more severe than expected and now threaten both the biosphere and humanity.”

Barker is also involved with the Green Party.

"Our industrial agriculture is not sustainable. I’ve become more focused on what is sustainable, and what I’m learning through this garden is that soil is the main thing; you’re building and encouraging the nutrition within the soil.

“I’m concerned that (climate emergency) is so serious, because I have seen in the last three years such change in the growing conditions in that garden. It’s very sobering. I don’t know that any of the other gardeners share my concern, and I don’t talk about it very much… because I think sustainable food is a problem ahead for us.”

According to the Midland Community Gardens' main Facebook page, vegetables, fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs, Indigenous foods and medicines, perennials, and annuals are all brought to fruition within its grounds.

Hirst heaps praise on the volunteers who help out with the project.

"They’re like gold. We really, really value our volunteers. And we really need more. It’s probably a dozen of us that are trying to keep that space going… it’s a small group, and we would love to have more people.”

Further contact information into becoming a volunteer, as well as seasonal bed rentals for the Midland Community Garden, is available on the organization’s Facebook page.