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Ignatius Jesuit Centre offers organic farming, hiking trails and a place to get away without travelling too far away (7 photos)

'By mid-summer this place will be bursting. It’s very powerful and awe-inspiring,' says one of the centre's regular gardiners

Minutes from the heart of Guelph, there’s forest and field, natural space and cultivated space, place for quiet contemplation and room for community.

It may sound contradictory, but the Ignatius Jesuit Centre, north of Woodlawn Road on Hwy. 6, is all that and then some. And while the centre is no longer a college for Jesuit priests, it continues to follow the traditions of its namesake St. Ignatius of Loyola and his exercises involving deep engagement with the land.

And so the place was hopping on Spring Field Day in early May with orientation tours for those who’ve rented garden plots for the summer, a plant sale of seedlings grown in the greenhouse on site, agriculture-related presentations and activities for the kids.

People were there to bike and hike the trails. Volunteers worked in the fields where crops for the CSA program – Community Supported Agriculture – are grown.

“There’s a lot going on here today,” agreed Olivia Sinko, Farm Educator at the Centre.

“In fact there are a number of different events out here during the year.

“We want to show people where their food comes from.”

There are 180 garden plots for rent anywhere from 100 to 1,000 square feet. Sinko said the plots are rotated and certain sections are left fallow from year to year to restore the soil.

There are many community gardens available in the city too, “but it’s a little different out here,” she said. Garden plots are bigger, it’s certified organic crops only, and there are no garden hoses or power to help the task. Just rain barrels and physical labour, she said.

Dale Van Goozen has provided some of that labour for her friend Cynthia Bragg, who has rented a garden plot for the past eight or nine years.

“Getting the seedlings planted, that’s the first stage,” Van Goozen said. “And by mid-summer this place will be bursting. It’s very powerful and awe-inspiring.”

“It’s good for your soul,” Bragg agreed.

James Wong and Amanda Harrison Wong are also long-time garden plot renters who now have two children who tag-along with them. Isaac, age 4, already has a few seasons under his belt but this will be the first summer for Henry, just 18 months old.

“Our garden never looks perfect,” Amanda said with a laugh. “The purpose is for the kids to learn where their food comes from and the work that it takes. It’s also great for them to be outside and enjoy it all.”

“It’s also really peaceful,” said James. “This is where I come to relax and get away from our busy life.”

The 600-acre Ignatius Jesuit Centre was originally purchased in 1913 by Canadian Jesuits with the intention of opening a training college for young Jesuit priests. Ignatius College became a renown facility in its heyday, but as numbers dwindled, the college closed in 2006 and re-opened as Orchard Park. It now rents out office space.

There is still a retreat on the grounds with sleeping, meeting and dining accommodations that can be booked for workshops, spiritual retreats and business conferences.

The gardens are the big draw in the summer, of course.

“People here come from different walks of life,” Sinko said. “There’s lots of knowledge, and lots of sharing and helping and support and that’s fantastic. You think you’re growing food, but you’re also growing community.”