Imagine a regular Saturday morning. You and your children dress on comfortable clothes pick up some garden tools and a backpack and walk (or bike?) to your neighbourhood community garden.
There, you will chat with Simar, who will share wonderful stories about how women from her region in India have transformed their once impoverished, hungry and abusive world into one of empowerment, food security and healthier habits; or may learn some healthy recipes from Patricia, from Colombia. Your children will spend a few hours with Alex, a newcomer from Ethiopia who will teach them how to care for their seedlings so they become strong cucumbers, tomatoes and peas.
You then spend your whole morning, exchanging ideas and recipes while caring for the plants and sharing food at the afternoon potluck party. Or you may relax sitting on a bench while observing how Nature does its work.
You are happy because you know you will save $$$ this year on grocery shopping and your children will enjoy fresh organic fruits and vegetables, while learn about science, composting, food preservation and healthy habits.
This is not a dream, it is happening in many cities around the world: it is called “Community Garden”.
Community Gardens or City Farming are a response to food insecurity and food price increases, lose of community networks and isolation.
Community gardens have been a traditional land-use in Europe since the early nineteenth century. They provided a breathing space in the crowded industrial cities and their produce supplemented the food supply of many families. In Canada, the first community gardens appeared along railway lines initiated by Canadian Pacific Railway in 1890, as an effort to advertise the West and encourage pioneers and settlers. Their use declined after 1910 and had some renaissance moments through school gardens and during WWI and WWII. Since 1965, community gardens in urban centres have been established throughout the country as a response to and as an indicator of the increasing awareness of ecological and food security issues. According to the American Community Gardening Association there are about 18,000 gardens in US and Canada together, and the number is growing!
“People share cultural information and gardening practices from their countries of origin” says Sasikala Sridar, program coordinator for the Community Garden Program at Diversecity in Surrey, BC. Participants have expressed that “the food from the garden supplements their regular food intake at no cost”, “they also learn more about Canadian environment and organic gardening”, says Ms Sridar. Other benefits are “food security, self-sufficiency, inclusion and community awareness” continues Ms Sridar, “practicing communication, confidence and community building” are also part of what community gardens may offer to both immigrants and Canadians alike.
These gardens are for everybody: “Our community garden integrates at least 10 language groups, men, women, seniors, newcomers and established Canadians “says Ms Sridar, “It is a microcosm of how things can work with diverse groups of people all working together for a common purpose and with common values”.
While Diversecity Community Garden doesn’t cost to participants, most community gardens charge a small fee to cover maintenance and start-up costs. Memberships can cost from $10-$100 a year, and a plot may cost $5-$15 a year. Seeds are usually shared and preserved by gardeners. If your knowledge of gardening is non-existent or basic, community gardens are the best place to learn!
This Earth Day 2013, make a commitment with the planet to join a community garden. Can’t find one around? Start one! Community gardens can be started by a small group of interested neighbours, school parents or even co-workers. The start-up cost may take from $500 to $5,000 depending on different factors. Municipalities, schools, churches and even private land owners may donate or lease the land and water access. Most materials may be donated or salvaged from landfills.
What if you find some resistance? “the city and pretty much everyone though it was a crazy idea” shares Jody Baker from Strathcona Gardens in Vancouver on how their garden started. “But over the decades it has become a model of making use of underutilized urban space, a way to build and maintain community and grow sustainable and healthy food in the city” continues Ms Baker. However, with concerns about how cities will deal with issues such as climate change, resource scarcity and economic challenges, cities and the general public have become more open about the idea.
Also, benefits surpass any costs : community gardens are known not just for lowering family budgets, improve self-reliance and food security, they help conserve resources and biodiversity while teaching organic practices, reduce crime, provide training and something useful to do for the youth and enhance community involvement, among others…so what you are waiting for?
A planning guide for edible school gardens: http://www.marioninstitute.org/sites/default/files/downloads/SEI/EdibleGardensGuide.pdf
Ten Steps to Starting a Community Garden: http://communitygarden.org/docs/10stepsstart.pdf
A Resource Package on How to Start your Own Community Garden: http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/Growing-Gardens.pdf