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East Van residents work around City garden rules

In the green grass, just off Victoria Drive, stands an apple red shed. It represents a full year’s work for…

By Stephanie Hallett , in City , on October 29, 2009

In the green grass, just off Victoria Drive, stands an apple red shed. It represents a full year’s work for the Cedar Cottage gardeners.

Members, friends and supporters gather around the new shed at Cedar Cottage Garden. The shed is a replica of the BC Electric station that stood in its place a century ago.
Members, friends and supporters gather around the new shed at Cedar Cottage Garden.

Unlike so many community gardens in Vancouver, this one is here to stay.

The City of Vancouver is enthusiastic about community gardening. The City’s 2010 Challenge calls for 2,010 new shared gardens on City-owned, Park Board or privately-owned land by next year.

But land owned by the Park Board and the City of Vancouver is only granted to gardeners on a renewable five-year term.

“Building a garden is quite an investment,” said Melanie Wilson of Cedar Cottage Garden. “So what happens if you build it and it’s only for five years?”

Home to 61 plots

When a piece of City-owned land in East Vancouver was offered up for use as a community garden, nearly a dozen residents of Cedar Cottage got together to start planting.

Soon after, the City announced the land was marked for real estate development and not open for gardening.

Nine-month-old Elsa enjoys a snack at Cedar Cottage Garden where her parents are members.
Nine-month-old Elsa enjoys a snack at Cedar Cottage Garden where her parents are members.

Rather than disband, the group refocused. They found an adjacent piece of land beside the SkyTrain tracks.

It took five months but the group gained permission from TransLink to use the land and planted their first crop just over a year ago.

Now the garden is home to 61 plots and even more members, with still more neighbourhood residents on the waiting list.

Carole Christopher, chair of the Vancouver Food Policy Council, said growing support for community gardens makes lease renewals more likely, but City and park gardens are not guaranteed.

“It’s very bad PR to turn people off community garden land,” Christopher said.

There are 55 community gardens currently on City, park and private land in Vancouver. A community garden is defined as a single piece of land used collectively by a group of people.

Wilson said the City is interested in garden beds, not orchards and fruit bushes because planners want to keep their options open. But gardeners want a diverse harvest, and that includes long-term crops.

Gardeners team up with transit

Cedar Cottage Garden is located at Victoria Dr. and Hull St. The land is owned by BC Hydro and leased to TransLink.

TransLink is allowing the group to use the former Austrian Plaza for community gardening, unless the site is needed for transit purposes.

Wilson said the garden seems more secure on TransLink’s land than it would be on City or park land.

“In some ways we’re helping transit out,” Wilson said. “We’re occupying a site where they’ve had issues with vandalism and crime, and we’re not out of the woods on that yet, but it seems there’s been a reduction in that since we’ve been there.”

Wilson said TransLink is unlikely to develop the land near the SkyTrain tracks so the risk of losing the garden seems minimal.

Backyard farming

Community gardens on private land provide another option for gardeners looking to plant orchards and other long-term crops.

But one Vancouverite has another plan.

Ying Dwyer turned her front lawn on E 11th Ave. into a food garden two years ago. This year she started Urban Community Farmer.

The last of the Fall harvest at one of Ying Dwyer's Urban Community Farmer sites on E 11th Ave.
The last of the Fall harvest at one of Ying Dwyer's Urban Community Farmer sites on E 11th Ave.

Landowners who donate their yard space to Urban Community Farmer will have fresh produce on their doorsteps year-round.

Community members who don’t have land can buy shares in the organization and receive a weekly basket of local produce. Dwyer currently has three farms in East Vancouver.

“I just think more and more people realize it’s such a good thing to have a garden instead of a lawn. When you have a lawn you still need to spend lots of money on maintaining the lawn,” Dwyer said.

“We’re in the city so there’s limited opportunities for gardens,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of people in our gardening group who live in apartments who don’t have other land to grow food on.”

“I do it with my kids because I think it’s so great to put seeds in the ground and see them grow and have them know where food comes from in a way that lots of city kids don’t. It comes from the ground and not from the supermarket.”

With projects like the 100 Mile Diet gaining popularity, the city is encouraging local food production.

The Cedar Cottage gardeners have been asked to develop a nearby City-owned patch of land. Wilson said the group is unsure if they will apply. They are interested in expanding, but they want a longer term commitment from the city.

Comments


  • I love the idea of turning the lawn into a food-producing garden. Even just in terms of being visually interesting, I’d much rather walk through a garden studded neighbourhood.

    Neat story.

  • Me too, gardens for lawns, such a better use of space. This article is great! Being from Toronto, it’s interesting know what community gardens in Vancouver, though I am completely dismayed at the city’s promotion of community gardens, yet inability to see that promotion as a long term goal. Seems the city is only interested in image based ideas rather than food security and long term community visioning.

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