City program sprouts food garden bonanza.

Trevor Crawley, Special to Vancouver Courier

Published: Friday, April 09, 2010

Vancouver’s green thumbs have surpassed city hall’s challenge of creating 2,010 gardens by 2010 to serve as an Olympic legacy.

The goal was met at the end of last year with 2,029 registered gardens–public and private–but the excitement over the Olympic Winter Games drowned out the achievement, said Andrew Pask, a social policy analyst with the city’s community services department.

Community engagement and more food-producing gardens in the city are benefits that city officials wanted to accomplish, Pask added. “The 2010 garden challenge is not just about growing food, but about growing community.”

The initiative was created by former NPA councillor and mayoral candidate Peter Ladner.

To be registered in the challenge, the city required the gardens to be food-producing plots registered in the Sharing Backyard and Grow a Row, Share a Row programs.

Gardeners interested in using publicly owned land, such as park space, must be part of a non-profit society and be caretakers of the gardens to have access to the land.

Public response for community gardens has been overwhelming and interested veggie-growers are being put on waiting lists from various non-profit groups that maintain gardens across the city, said Pask.

Interest in community gardening has skyrocketed because residents want to take pride in their local produce, said Alyssa Hall, coordinator for the McSpadden Agricultural Project Society, which organized a garden in McSpadden Park years ago.

The garden has a waiting list, and Hall gets calls weekly and numerous emails from interested gardeners, ranging from the serious to the curious, who notice the garden.

Users of the plots take pride in what they grow. Everybody pitches in to keep everything maintained including building fencing and a compost bin, she said.

The city supports the gardens but the non-profit must help new gardeners find space and apply for grants to do further work. Hall said the city helps community gardens by creating water lines, quickly approving sites and picking up green clippings and weeds.

When the windstorm tore up Stanley Park in 2006, the city donated some of the wood chips from fallen trees to the society to use in the garden, Hall added. “It’s really nice to have that support.”

The McSpadden garden also reserved a plot for nearby Queen Alexandra elementary school so students and teachers can use it for a nutritional food program.

The profile of community gardening has been raised by the 2010 challenge, despite the fact the McSpadden garden was operating before the challenge was issued, according to Pask. It’s home to produce including kale, tomatoes, garlic, salad greens and herbs, such as dill and sage as well as a communal strawberry patch.

Community groups and non-profit societies are welcome to approach the park board if a space in a public park could be used for a garden, said Liane McKenna, director of Vancouver East District for the park board.

Proposed sites shouldn’t interfere with coveted open space or sports fields. Neighbourhood consultation follows to gauge interest from residents in a community garden site.

trevor.crawley@gmail.com

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