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Going Green: From Gravel Pit to Vibrant Social Hub

Abbey Gardens brings sustainability and natural beauty to the Haliburton community

The entrance of a red building. The brown doors with windows in them are shaded by an awning and a sign that says "Abbey Gardens".

Courtesy of Abbey Gardens

Abbey Gardens was born from a decommissioned gravel pit transformed—through the hard work of dozens of volunteers—into a lush and vibrant community hub. 

Old gravel pits often find new life as nature reserves or recreational attractions. In this case, a retired businessman, John Patterson spied a parcel of land in Haliburton, a county about 215 kilometres north of Toronto, and envisioned something transformative. Patterson’s vision led to a not-for-profit destination spanning 300-plus acres, all focused on exploration, education and sustainability. 

There you’ll find the Food Hub, a social enterprise and retail space that sells vegetables grown in the gardens and a hydroponic facility, alongside local fruits, baked goods and prepared meals. As well, there are comedy nights, festivals, weddings and even self-guided interpretive trails with signage informing you about the environment you’re exploring. 

A woman in a mauve jumpsuit holds a brown basket full of produce. She is standing inside a greenhouse with a clear covering and rows of produce growing.

“You’ll see a sign that says, ‘Lift these boards to discover a salamander habitat,’ ” says Ashley McAllister, the gardens’ director of operations and strategic initiatives, “or ‘You’re walking through a tall-grass prairie, a really unique ecosystem that we have managed to replicate.’ ” 

This educational approach is a key part of Abbey Gardens, which is committed to the ongoing restoration work on-site. “At the end of the day, we are still greening the gravel pit and bringing it back,” notes McAllister. 

None of this would happen without the support of more than 100 volunteers, ranging from the dedicated Food Hub kitchen team to the industrious gardeners. “We have event volunteers too,” adds McAllister, “as some of our festivals can attract over 1,500 people.”

And, unlike many cottage-country businesses that quiet down after the seasonal residents head home, Abbey Gardens is bustling year-round with visitors and locals alike.

“We want to be part of people’s every day, year-round,” says McAllister. “You can come and get groceries, you can grab a beer at the brewery, you can see a movie, you can take friends to play disc golf, you can have your wedding here, you can attend a concert. We are a part of the community.”

 

Abbey Gardens is a Member-nominated Good Place.

Know of any community organizations that strive to make life better for all? Send nominations to drivenbygood@caasco.ca to share their stories.

 

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