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the state of community gardening in Toronto

  • Subject: [cg] the state of community gardening in Toronto
  • From: "James Kuhns" jkuhns@sympatico.ca
  • Date: Fri, 17 Mar 2006 07:50:20 -0500

eye - March 16, 2006
http://www.eye.net/eye/issue/issue_03.16.06/city/news.html


News
Growing a solution to hunger
Getting in touch with the land and filling empty stomachs at community gardens
Amid budget woes and provincial downloading that has left Toronto's city
council scrambling to find ways to meet the needs of some of its most
vulnerable residents, a tool in the challenge to help eradicate hunger and
improve nutrition is cropping up in what, for some, may seem like an unlikely
place. Last week, the Community Services Committee received a report on the
growing number of community gardens in Toronto and the key role they play in
the city's plan to improve access to food. The challenge this year will be to
figure out ways to increase the number of gardens throughout the city despite
no new funding.

In 1999, council adopted a Community Garden Action Plan with the aim of
increasing the number community gardens -- based on plots of public or private
land, organized by local residents who take it upon themselves to run them --
citywide, ensuring at least one in every ward. At first glance, the action
plan sounds innocuous, a feel-good project with lofty ambitions of giving
people the opportunity to connect with nature by digging in the dirt; a
wholesome opportunity for political photo ops, but not necessarily essential
to the overall well-being and progress of the city.

Four years later, however, the food and hunger action committee recognized
community gardens as a key component of the city's Food and Hunger Action
Plan, which aspires to help alleviate hunger and improve health by increasing
access to nutritious food. As it turns out (and as most urban gardeners have
probably known for years) community gardens are more than just pretty plots of
flowers; they connect people with their neighbours, give novices the
opportunity to learn how to grow plants, offer pesticide-free, locally grown
produce and, most importantly, actually provide people with much-needed food.

"Most community gardens are food gardens," says Laura Berman of FoodShare, a
non-profit organization that promotes healthy eating and works to "improve
access to affordable and healthy food."

Lately, the city has been keeping closer tabs on these gardens: according to a
status report issued last week, there are 124 community gardens in the city
with approximately 4,600 participants, but the goal of having at least one
community garden in every ward has yet to be met. Nine of the city's wards,
all outside the downtown core, are still without a garden of their own.

One Stop Community Food Centre in Davenport West runs the kind of community
garden the city could use more of. Volunteers have been running their
8,000-square-foot garden for eight years now, yielding on average about 2,600
pounds of food a year, all of which goes into the centre's food bank and meal
programs.

"The city and different city departments are starting to get that this is
something that's really important for communities to do," says Rhonda
Teitel-Payne, the centre's urban agriculture coordinator. "But that positive
response is a bit mixed. Some people really get it and other people don't.
We're trying to work to make sure that everybody gets it."

Getting it involves viewing gardening as more than just planting pretty
flowers. Many of the volunteers at One Stop, for example, participate in the
centre's other programs. Gardening allows them to give something back to the
community centre that offers them help. It also allows them to help each
other.

"We find that when people come together to garden, they have the opportunity
to talk about some of the other things that are impacting their food security,
such as housing, legal issues and immigration," explains Teitel-Payne. This
opens up the possibility that other gardeners (who may have had similar
experiences) and the centre's staff can share advice and provide them with the
resources they need.

"Community gardens become like a community centre, a place for neighbours to
meet each other who wouldn't normally," says FoodShare's Berman. She describes
a garden near Don Mills Road and Sheppard: "It's probably one of the most
multicultural garden groups I've ever seen: there are Iranians, Jamaicans,
Koreans, people from all over the world."

According to the report received by the community services committee, the city
has taken some significant steps to

further its number of community gardens. The Black Creek Urban Farm Project,
for example, offers residents in the Jane-Finch community the opportunity to
garden on its six-acre plot and provides employment opportunities in the area.
The city's Green Roofs strategy, approved in January, will promote gardening
on city rooftops.

Short on funds, the city intends to find ways to meet its objectives by
working closely with community groups and organizations such as FoodShare to
help them realize their goals. Says Berman, "For community gardens to make a
real difference in people's food security, we need to make a concerted effort
to provide land for people who want to garden." DALE DUNCAN


______________________________________________________
The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org


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