Have you ever dreamed about what you could do with a lifeless gravel pit?!

Abbey Gardens is a not-for profit charity and our big dream is to transform a spent gravel pit into a green space that provides economic and recreational opportunities for our community.

Everything we do on site helps further our mission to create opportunities to learn about living more sustainably. If you want to learn about local food, gardening, energy, sustainable construction techniques, heritage agricultural animals, land restoration or cooking techniques, this is the place to visit!

Our site features: a Food Hub that is fully stocked with local food and fresh produce from our gardens, interpretive trails, heritage breed displays, programming and event spaces, picnic areas, and trails.

In 2009, the Abbey Gardens Community Trust was born out of this dream. to convert a gravel pit into beautiful gardens that would become a destination for people to meet and learn as well as become a resource for the community. At the same time, like many other communities in Ontario, Haliburton County’s local food movement was in full swing.

In response to community feedback, our dream evolved to adopt a local food and environmental sustainability theme and, by 2010, the Abbey Gardens board located our property and participated in the development of a local farmers’ market. 2011 marked the introduction of a small CSA program, the beginning of a feasibility plan for the future, and, most excitingly, chickens joined our site.

In 2012, programming expanded to include workshops and showcasing of heritage breeds. The creation of a Food Hub began in 2012 in partnership with the Fleming Sustainable Building Program and the building was open for the 2013 season.

Since then, our 300-acre site has been developing incrementally as we learn more about community’s needs and interests. The market garden now covers 2 ½ acres of partially restored gravel pit. This area boasts a straw bale building, with solar net metering and heating and cooling with geothermal energy that is taking shape as a community food hub. The Food Hub is complete with cooking and gardening classes.

We have five full time, year-round staff members and our team grows to 10-12 staff members during the spring and summer season. Our team is focused on creating educational experiences for visitors through workshops, tours, and exposure to various demonstration areas such as: composting, heritage breeds, soil regeneration, and restoration areas.

We are currently partnering with Trent University and Fleming College to provide research opportunities to students whose work can then help inform our development. The opportunities for other businesses are varied. At this stage Haliburton Highlands Brewing, Into the Blue Bakery (a mobile pizza oven operation), and County Coffee all operate on our site.

In the fall of 2016, Haliburton Solar + Wind, an established business, moved to the site. It is housed in a building constructed by the Fleming Sustainable Building Program and has invested in the creation of an Alternative Energy Demonstration Area that showcases solar and wind technology that powers their off-grid office and education space. We have also installed a biomass boiler to heat two buildings on the property and are currently working with Biothermic, a local wood-fired boiler company with a vision for “local fuel”.

The future of our site includes: trail development to encourage an increased number of visitors, expansion of the garden demonstration site, and expanding opportunities for business partnership. The property is a destination that demonstrates what is possible for local food production and sustainable living (including renewable energy). Educational programming supports visitors and local producers who want to learn more about sustainability, gardening, food processing, and ecology. The Food Hub provides an outlet for many local producers and creates ways for consumers to access local food.

The concept of converting an “unusable” piece of land into a community resource is a lofty vision. At Abbey Gardens, we have been able to move towards achieving our vision by listening to our community and boldly experimenting with different ways of doing things. We are moving beyond the traditional restoration of a gravel pit as we seek out new ways to create community vibrancy, which is at the heart of our dream.

We are incorporating local food, environmental stewardship, and alternative energy into one experience. Where else in Ontario can you go and sample local products, learn about the local climate and growing conditions, be exposed to alternatives for energy production and consumption, and enjoy a walk in the woods!

We are able to showcase and explore in many directions at once because we are combining the efforts of not-for-profit and for-profit efforts. With our partners, Abbey Gardens is treading on new ground by working across sectors for everyone’s mutual benefit.