Fewer community garden plots were added to public land in Vancouver this year than any year in the past decade, despite growing waitlists for garden space.
The city approved space for 830 new plots in 2017, 110 in 2018, but only 23 in 2019, according to Vancouver’s open-source data portal.
The amount of available land for new community gardens fluctuates year to year due to competing interests for limited space, according to Liz Nowatschin, a city employee who oversees community gardens on city property.
“Right now social housing and affordable housing are big issues,” Nowatschin said. “A lot of parcels that may have worked well for community gardens have been used for temporary modular housing.”
Community gardens on empty lots are always in jeopardy. As soon as a developer decides to build on the land, the garden has to go.
“If anything, these are temporary community gardens and should never be counted in the City of Vancouver statistics,” said Chris Thoreau, owner of Vancouver Urban Micro and contributor to the city’s urban food strategy.
This year, the city made plans to uproot Cedar Cottage Community Garden in east Vancouver to make room for a social-housing project.
Many gardens are built as placeholders for developers awaiting building permits. Developers benefit from reduced taxes when they own land zoned for recreational or non-profit use instead of commercial use. This is the case for the Davie Village garden, which will be replaced by a tower if the city approves the developer’s application.
The city often creates more permanent community gardens in parks, but doing so comes with caveats.
“In cases where the gardens go into parks, it has to be in a place where it’s not going to reduce recreational access for other people,” said Thoreau.
An eco-group hopes to shorten waitlists for garden space
Community gardens are usually designated for empty lots or parks but some entrepreneurs are finding fresh ways to make space and shorten waitlists. Lettuce Harvest is a new group that aims to connect homeowners with yards to community members who are keen to get their hands dirty.
Zoe Beynon-MacKinnon was part of a team that developed the project while participating in Climate Guides, a non-profit that brings youth aged 18 to 30 together to strategize about climate change.
“Unlike the current system, which is temporary and has a capacity limit, we’re hoping to create a model that is organic and can grow with interest,” Beynon-MacKinnon said.
Lettuce Harvest will pitch the idea to the communities of east Vancouver, Kitsilano, and False Creek in the coming weeks.
Their goal is to grow and distribute food in the future, but they are still trying to decide how the food will be shared.
“Part of the community consultations we have coming up is trying to figure out how much time investment people will be interested in, how much engagement they’d like from us as facilitators, how we can best meet the needs of the community,” said Beynon-McKinnon.
The city is not planning any changes to its current community-garden policy.