A new irrigation system at the Green & Gold Community Garden uses less water for a more bountiful harvest

A drip irrigation system funded by a Campus Sustainability Grant helped the garden achieve their most productive season to date.


Raised on a grain farm near Kindersley, Saskatchewan, Dion Bews was immersed in agriculture at an early age. So it’s not surprising Dion spends much of his leisure time these days with his partner Erin and their two sons at the Green & Gold Community Garden on the University of Alberta’s South Campus farm. It’s a different kind of family farming, one that he fully embraces.

“I’m the first male in my family in several generations not to be a farmer proper,” says Bews, whose day job is producing handcrafted custom acoustic guitars in a studio off Whyte Avenue. “The garden has become more than just an activity that I share with my biological family as well as my in-laws, who also volunteer regularly. The entire community of 200 volunteers has become an extended family.”

Looking out for those people was a driver behind applying for two Campus Sustainability Grants to build a new irrigation system on the two acres of market vegetables and half-acre of orchards and berry patches tended by the garden’s volunteers.

“We trenched 1,200 feet of underground water lines and installed hydrants at the corner of most plots. We’ll have them installed on every plot this year,” says Bews, who serves as the garden’s field manager. “We have put in fixtures and low-flow overhead sprinklers along with drip lines for appropriate crops.”

The new irrigation system has cut water usage and has also made it easier for volunteers to avoid hauling hoses, which has eased the burden on older volunteers.

“The new irrigation system allows us to water more often while using less water. Wet soil actually holds more rain than dry soil, so we have less soil erosion, as well,” Bews says. “Many of our volunteers are aging, and this system helps put them on an equal footing because it removes the barrier of tasks that might make it difficult for them to water certain plots by hauling heavy hoses or irrigation fixtures.”

Bews’ mother-in-law Margaret Milner, a retired nurse who has volunteered at the garden for 13 years, agrees.

“The underground system is phenomenal and so easy to use,” says Milner. “The previous irrigation system had heavy pipes, and it was a huge job to set it up. It also created a tripping hazard throughout the garden, and you couldn’t run equipment over it.”

The garden also purchased hoops, shade cloth and propagation trays in order to better adapt to climate challenges. They just had their most productive season ever, which included 3,500 feet of carrots, 300 kale plants, 2,800 hills of potatoes, 1,650 feet of beets, 900 feet of corn and 5,100 bulbs of garlic.

Ensuring the sustainability of the garden, whose proceeds support the Tubahumurize Association, a not-for-profit organization that supports socially and economically marginalized women in Rwanda, remains important for Bews and the volunteers who plant, weed, water, pick and sell the fruits and vegetables produced by the garden.

“It’s an amazing community project. My son Yarrow, who is four, can name all the vegetables, and his brother Fern, who is two, loves being at the garden. It is meaningful that they can spend spring, summer and fall with us and their grandparents at the garden,” he says. “Some people may call it a passion, but it’s more than that. It’s helping to create a place for a world I want to live in.” 

Campus Sustainability Grants can be used to implement various types of sustainability initiatives across U of A campuses. Learn how a grant helped start the Clothing Repair Cafe, a workshop where people can learn to mend and repair their clothes.

If you have an idea for a small or large project that advances sustainability on campus, apply for a Campus Sustainability Grant.