Heritage Acres Victory Garden grows hope for another year

On March 5, 2020, Anna Welsch woke up at 4:35 a.m. to her house burning down. In a time also defined by Covid lockdowns, layoffs and mass uncertainty, hope could be hard to come by. Seeing the struggles of others, while trying to manage her own, Welsch had an idea — victory gardens.

Victory gardens were a wartime initiative that encouraged Canadian families to use green space to grow hearty food to send to troops overseas and to support their own homes during tumultuous economies.

Welsch, now president of the Oldman River Antique Equipment and Threshing Club, which operates Heritage Acres Farm Museum, decided to bring this concept to the community, establishing a garden on a portion of the land in the agricultural museum in the MD of Pincher Creek.

Similar to the wartime mentality, the idea was “How can we help ourselves?” as the community faced job losses and grocery insecurity during the pandemic.

“We have found that the community has been super receptive of it,” Welsch says.

Volunteers would help grow food, and it would be donated to the local food bank, Napi Friendship Centre and the women’s shelter, where the food would directly help the community.

In 2020, the garden produced 1,000 pounds of potatoes and 300 pounds of carrots. Through 2020, 2021 and 2022, the garden produced well over 2,500 pounds of potatoes and 600 pounds of carrots.

This success came with the help of a strong group of core volunteers, according to Welsch. It was the perfect pandemic social activity — outside, six feet apart, planting and weeding to feed the community.

“It could be a safe space for people’s mental health,” Welsch says. “You come play in the garden, play in the dirt, you can distance yourself safely at the time and still have a conversation.”

The garden encountered some challenges and did not produce in 2023. In 2024, the clay loam soil was too packed down and needed mulching.

Heritage Acres made a request to MD council to provide assistance, which was granted and is now underway.

“Our ultimate aim is to produce food,” Welsch says. “Agriculture centres around feeding the world.”

As part of an agricultural museum, this garden also created the opportunity to use historic equipment, like the early 1900s digger that’s used to plant, and teach the community more about food production.

In the future, Welsch would like to expand to include rhubarb and fruit trees in the garden.

Heritage Acres is always looking for more volunteers to help weed, plant and maintain the garden. If you are interested in getting involved, email info@heritageacres.org.

Mia Parker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze