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Vancouver Community Gardens a Growing Trend

Gardens boost well-being, help nourish underprivileged communities

By Justina Reichel
Epoch Times Staff
Created: June 13, 2012 Last Updated: June 13, 2012
Related articles: Canada » Vancouver
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A community garden in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood. A record 405 new community gardens were planted last year as part of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s mandate to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city. (City of Vancouver)

A community garden in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood. A record 405 new community gardens were planted last year as part of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s mandate to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city. (City of Vancouver)

Community gardens are becoming so popular in Vancouver that the city is struggling to keep up with the demand.

Last year a record 405 new plots were created in Vancouver’s 85 community gardens, bringing the total to 3,700 plots, one of the highest of any city in North America.

“We are not able to keep up with the demand,” says Mary Clare Zak, social policy director for the City of Vancouver.

For a lot of people it’s an opportunity to get out and convene with your neighbours.

— Mary Clare Zak, City of Vancouver

“What the residents of Vancouver are telling us is this is something that they see as a need, and something that they really want to do.”

Last week the city announced it would add 11 new plots to the City Hall community garden in an effort to accommodate a growing waiting list.

Mayor Gregor Robertson has said the aim is to reach 5,000 plots in all by the year 2020, as part of his mandate to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city.

In 2006, Vancouver City Council issued a challenge to individuals, families, and community groups to establish more food-producing gardens in the city. The challenge was to create 2,010 new garden plots by 2010, as an Olympic legacy. The challenge was not only met but exceeded by the beginning of 2010.

People are getting involved in community gardening for a variety of reasons and then discovering unexpected benefits from it, says Zak. Many join a garden to save on grocery costs, enjoy local food varieties, or help the environment, but end up benefitting socially, spiritually and building stronger community ties.

A community garden in south Vancouver. (City of Vancouver)

A community garden in south Vancouver. (City of Vancouver)

“For a lot of people it’s an opportunity to get out and convene with your neighbours, to do something really practical with your hands, and have that real pleasure of working together—there’s a social aspect to it,” she says.

“Also watching your produce grow, and getting a real satisfaction out of that.”

Some gardens are maintained year-round, with summer produce such as strawberries, corn, and radishes replaced by heartier breeds in the winter such as turnips and kale.

Zak thinks the spike in popularity of community gardens is partly due to the increasing density of the city and the high cost of living. With more families living in apartments and condos, the opportunity to get outside and connect with nature is not always readily available.

The profile of a typical gardener is also beginning to shift. According to a survey conducted by the city, the majority of gardeners (60 percent) continue to be middle-aged women, but more young people are coming in now than ever before.

People are getting involved in community gardening for a variety of reasons and then discovering unexpected benefits from it.

“These are people in their twenties and thirties who decided they want to do things that maybe their parents didn’t do much of, maybe more along the lines of what their grandparents did—have a backyard garden, do a bit of canning, that kind of thing,” says Zak.

Benefiting the Broader Community

The benefits of community gardens are beginning to reach those who need it most, Zak notes. Partnerships are being cultivated between the gardens and non-profit organizations, school boards, and various food programs to help nourish underprivileged communities.

“More times than not there ends up being produce that’s left over and that’s shared among the gardeners, and then oftentimes they make donations to a non-profit organization that has a food program perhaps that feeds seniors, or that has after-school programs for kids and things like that. So that’s the other benefit is that in most cases the garden actually gives back to the community,” she says.

The City Hall community garden, which currently has 36 plots, is operated in partnership with Evergreen, a national charity that aims to make cities more sustainable. The garden includes plots that are wheelchair accessible, plots for schools and community centres, and features a plot dedicated to the cultivation of native edible and medicinal plants.

“We’re very pleased to be expanding the City Hall community garden, given we have a waiting list of over 36 people,” says Helen Beynon, community development coordinator with Evergreen.

“This garden has provided over 370 community members and volunteers an opportunity to grow and learn about planting, stewardship and harvesting crops, and has brought together people of all ages in the shared goal of producing more local food.”

Residents who are looking to join a garden can simply log on to the city’s website and apply for space in a plot in their neighbourhood, coordinated by a local volunteer.

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