The grass along Highway 71 at Sioux Narrows struggles to grow through decades-old rock and rubble left from when the highway was built.
But now, on top of that grass, well-tended gardens are flourishing thanks to the Sunrise Echoes seniors’ club and a grant from the provincial government.
The Sunrise Garden officially opened last Tuesday (July 19) on a sweltering afternoon when soil and skin alike were sizzling.
“The garden benefits not only those who dig and weed and hoe the soil, but it’s a benefit to the community as a whole,” Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls Mayor Bill Thompson said following the grand opening.
“I know most of us think there’s no better place on earth than Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, and we think of it as a tourist town, but do visitors see what we see?” he added.
“If we are going to have what we want in this community, and what that garden symbolizes, we all need to plant, and hoe, and to weed, to develop, to promote, and to nourish the community pride that is indicated by that garden over there,” Mayor Thompson reasoned.
The garden, which is filled to capacity with members from the seniors’ club, was built last year after the club applied for funding from the Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport.
With help from the Northwestern Health Unit and township office, the club received a grant of $10,654 for the project.
“Oh, there’s so many benefits of gardening,” said Holly Kropelin, a health educator with the health unit who has been involved with the garden.
“It’s physical activity,” she stressed. “You’re getting down, mixing with the earth. You’re working your body, your arms, and your legs.
“It’s great for your mental health, as well,” Kropelin added. “You get in the garden, it’s relaxing, it’s calming, you’re being active, you’re learning about nutrition.
“It’s good for the soul.”
Karen Andrews, chairperson of the garden operations committee, floated the idea of a garden last year after reading a story in the Rainy River Record about the community garden there.
She brought up the idea during a club meeting, where it was met with enthusiasm. From there, the idea grew as the garden construction committee began doing research.
“We worked so hard to try to make it right the first time around, and we studied and we had meetings galore,” Andrews recalled.
“And every time we had a meeting, somebody would come up with something else and we’d go, ‘Wow, I’m glad we waited. Good idea.’”
Even after the club already had the grant funding approved, it was open to new ideas. A visit to a community garden in Dryden led to overhauling the original plans for a ground-level garden and instead designing 23 raised cedar-box beds.
This meant it would be more accessible for any gardeners who weren’t up to kneeling in the soil for their plants’ sake.
While the raised beds meant the club had to sacrifice a planned built-in shed, nobody had anything but praise for the garden at its grand opening last Tuesday.
“This is our first year with the seniors’ centre and with the gardening and it’s a great organization, and they’re all hard workers and it’s a great opportunity to meet different people, too,” noted Maureen Toni of Fargo, N.D., who has a cottage in the area.
“And [it’s a chance to] envy their gardens and learn from each other.
“And try to pull the secrets out of them,” she laughed.