Intro self: Background in agricultureManaged farms both rural and urban scalesEducational background in social workWhen farming, had to sell largely to folks with a lot of class and race privilege – cheapened the experience somewhatBegan looking for work with more of a social impact, and ended up at the stop where I now work as the urban agriculture coordinatorWho has heard of the stop?
… and we use food as an entry point for many social issues, largely focusing on povertyStarted as a food bank in in the 1980’s, during recession, folks started falling through the cracksOver time have made the decision to limit how much money goes towards emergency food service (though it is still a large part of what we do), in order to try to have a more holistic approach to hunger. As we believe that food banks are not the solution, and are even part of the problem.
The three programs in particular that I work with, and that I will touch on today are our Hillcrest community garden, the global roots garden, and the yes in my backyard (or yimby) program.
Unlike personal plot model of community gardens - shared gardening, shared harvest. This suits the needs of people who are just learning how to grow, who are socially isolated and primarily interested in an opportunity for community building, for people who need a good deal of facilitation and support etc..We run two programs out of this garden: one is a general volunteer group – often people referred from our other programs, other is the sagatay gardening program – medicine wheel, run with na-me-resThe space has some challenges (shade, water), and the focus on support and facilitation often means that production comes second.
Immigrant seniors and youthFood security a major goalAlso: Intergenerational knowledge exchange, reducing social isolation, showcasing diverse food-growing traditions, creating a newcomer-centric space
Many people (particular newcomers) come from agrarian backgrounds and are just in need of a piece of land in order to do grow food (give example of Tibetan gardeners). For many people, it is simply an issue of spaceLots of facilitation in terms of making a good match, then mostly on their own
Increased access vs. meaningful impact on food security. Up to you to decide what a meaningful impact is – I suggest a goal could be to have vegetables with one meal a dayParticipant support vs production: Access to the garden space may take prescience over production – things get in late, rain days, slow pace of work etc..Prioritizing production may mean alienating many participantsScale of community gardens often not enough to produce a substantial amount of foodFunding for fertility input in many community gardens not adequate for full productionHonest assessment: It may not be food production- A wide variety of literature documents the health benefits of working with plants and green spaces. (stress reduction lowering blood pressure, community development, potential for community organizing, physical exercise, opportunity for spiritual connection, teamwork, dialogue and education – to name a few)If production remains the goal, be prepared for more work, more input, and a potentially less accessible garden
Like to take the question farther, from are community gardens providing access to healthy food, to is gardening itself accessible?Many people have turned to community gardening as an alternative (or supplement) to food banks which are generally abysmally unhealthy. Gardens are also a great option for low income folks, as they operate more outside of the consumer framework. Much like food banks, it is easy for community gardens to give the impression that a need is being met, when it is not. This is dangerous as it takes the focus away from the systemic problems that are at the root, in favour of discreet, fundable solutions.
The root problem– poverty. Low welfare rates and minimum wage. With inflation, as the minimum wage drops, the cost of basic foods, healthcare, etc goes up. And food is always the first thing to go when people are running out of money. For many low income folks, gardening can seem like a hobby, and and unavailable pastime
Community gardening is a niche solution often more available to folks with class and race privilege (so we often see a very white demographic interested), and less often to those who are the most affected by hungerTimeFood out vs. energy input (compared with, say, a better job)- History also shapes who is likely to find community gardening attractive: There is an extremely loaded history of land and labour relations when it comes to agriculture (for example: slavery, expropriation of indigenous lands for agrarian settlement, the exploitation of racialized labour through migrant labour etc..). Who finds community gardening easier to romanticise?
We have to be willing to look at our own investments in seeing food politics take particular forms – is it about our personal desires, or about what’s really needed?the sexiness of urban agriculture: Tell CMHA storyintegrate a power analysis into your practice
- Be honest about your goals, people can tell if you are not producing, and it cheapens the experience. Also be open to the fact that gardens may not be what some communities need or wantTell Robin story, how many garden projects fail because of biting off more than they can chewSteve Solomon’s Mix: Seed/alfalfa meal, rock phosphate, kelp meal, lime (as well as compost or manure)Mulch!Get proper agreements with land owners – it takes 3-5 years to develop productive soil!
Physical – can all people move around in the space?Snacks and transit support (GR tokens identified as most valuable)Outreach via other orgs especially where marginalized folks are already doing work in the community, and your own personal connections – take true community building seriously. RELATIONSHIP BUILDING. In order to make gardening available to POC Like global roots and sagatay, make spaces where impacted communities (migrants, poc, indigenous people etc..) are not just invited, but are centred.Hiring (prioritize hiring people of colour in leadership positions, work with the community (not how can we help, but how can we work together), accountability process (do your feedback forms and take them seriously!)Anti-Oppression training for staff, Solidarity – this might mean refusing to hold an event that does not have meaningful input/representation of POC and low income folks.Assess individual needs of participants, and have options based on knowledge, need for facilitation, goals etc..
Hillcrest Community Garden
Community Gardens and Access
About The Stop
… Basically a
that’s all about Food
About The Stop
… Basically a community centre that’s all about Food
• Food Services: Food Bank, Drop-in meals, perinatal programs, good
• Community Cooking: Nutritional programs, Healthy Meals, Sabor
Latino, Men’s Cooking Group, Shovel & Spoon
• Social Justice and Civic Engagement: Community advocacy, social
justice campaigns (Put Food In The Budget, Do The Math)
• Education: Grade 5 program, Food Leadership for
Youth, Workshops, women & trans* skillshare, After School Program
• Urban Agriculture: Community Gardens, Greenhouse & compost
demonstration, Global Roots Garden, Yes In My Back Yard.
The Global Roots Garden
• Meaningful impact on
• Migrant seniors and youth
• Gardening in small groups
• Less facilitation
• Intercultural community
Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY)
• Most meaningful
impact on food security
• Means of production
(land, fertility, tools, kno
• Substantial space per
• Requires substantial
• Community building
Outreach, outreach, outreach
Gauging gardener capacity
Great place for people who
have learned in our other
programs and are ready to
“go it alone”
Raised garden beds, water, food, shade, slow pace, time for rest, wide
pathways, seating, location, advertised ASL interpretation, facilitation.
Access: To Food
access” vs. a
• Participant support
• Input & Output
• Honestly assess
your goal, is it food
Access: To Gardening
solution - systemic
Access: To Gardening
• To whom is this
Be clear about your goals
Scale up but start small
Invest in soil
Stable access to land
• Physical accessibility (can people move around
• Snacks and Transit support
• Outreach (especially via other services)
• Does your organization reflect the
• Assess individual needs