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Building Community Through

Gardening 

Gardening as a Community Builder

One of my personal passions is gardening, but not flower beds and grass so much. No, what I'm really drawn to is the idea of turning all that grass; all that very needy and hard to maintain, pesticide-laden, green but barren waste-lands we call front lawns, into beautiful vegetable gardens. I envision growing my vegetables, my (imaginary, but soon to be real, post MA) chickens running loose in the yard, and then at the end of an amazing growing season, I see myself along with my family sharing the bounty with my neighbours. I imagine my entire street of semi-retired baby-boomers, who love their perfectly manicured lawn, learning about and embracing the food-not-lawns movement and each converting their own lawns into sustainable food-sources.

 

Have you ever heard of the term guerrilla gardening? Oh, I just learned about it and it is incredible. These are the plans for my very own guerilla garden! My kids seem to think we're going to start a zoo, which I'm looking forward to turning into a teachable moment, grammar lesson (but that's for another blog post). These landscaping plans include retaining rocks, flowers, plants, and vegetables. Somehow, I don't really think the landscape architect believed me when I said I wanted to create an entire front-lawn, vegetable garden, so I'll have to do a little modifying here and there to get rid of even more grass. So, the term guerrilla gardening refers to planting gardens in areas not technically owned by you. And you know what happens generally in these spaces after they're planted? The community embraces them and they become incredible community spaces for all to enjoy.

 

You see technically speaking, a quarter of the hill (or so) you see in these plans belong to the township. We still have to cut the grass and maintain it, but technically, only about three-quarters belongs to us. So, by using this land, which I envision to become a pumpkin or squash patch, our family will automatically become guerilla gardeners. What I would really like though, apart from the obviously amazing connection to what feels to me like modern day revolution, is for the people who are walking by our home to be able to grab a few tomatoes and other vegetables and to enjoy them. I look forward to the conversations and connections with people in my own neighbourhood who don't know us or how to grow vegetables. I will welcome questions and connections, and I look forward to eating food that we grew. I would like the homeless man who rides his bike collecting bottles every week, to enjoy some fresh vegetables and feel like he too, is a welcome part of this community. Boy do we have plans for that big, beautiful hill!

Garden Plans 2020

This next picture (below is my front yard now). It's the middle of winter, and you can't really tell, but there's a giant hill, then a flat area (my lawn), then my house. The backyard is all forest, so the front yard is a perfect spot to raise some vegetables and build community.

 

As a family we're starting to brainstorm ideas for a little sign that we can put up asking people to take what they need. It has to be pithy and we've got a few great ideas, but welcome some of yours as well.

Plans for a community space on my front lawn

We are planning to begin construction in the spring of 2020! Check back then and I'll create posts of our progress from construction, to planting, to growing and harvesting. Hope to have lots of interesting community stories to share with you as well!

Building Communities Through Community Gardening

There are other options for gardening that don't require your own piece of property. Not everyone has access to land that can be used for gardening, especially in more urban centres. Guerilla techniques are one way to use public land for gardening, but if you'd rather stick to more conventional methods there are options for that as well. For those interested, community gardens are a perfect way to build community and still attain the benefits associated with community spaces generally and community gardening specifically.

Collaboration is Key

There are other options for gardening that don't require your own piece of property. Not everyone has access to land that can be used for gardening, especially in more urban centres. Guerilla techniques are one way to use public land for gardening, but if you'd rather stick to more conventional methods there are options for that as well. For those interested, community gardens are a perfect way to build community and still attain the benefits associated with community spaces generally and community gardening specifically.

In the article The role of community gardens in creating healthy communities author Elise Harris (2009) outlines numerous benefits of community gardens in urban spaces including:

  • an increase in physical health benefits which include an improvement in people’s diets and exercise

  • facilitation of connections between diverse groups of peoples

  • environmental benefits of consuming local food versus food that has been transported from elsewhere

 

Policy planning can help support community gardens. Some examples include documentation of the benefits of community-based agriculture in policy documents which urban planners can then turn to in support of their creation, zone changes allowances enabling gardens to be mixed with commercial and residential zoning, or even the creation of garden-only zones where gardening is the only approved use.

 

Some practical applications include setting targets for a certain number of community gardens to be created and supported in cities, like Chicago which aimed to have “1000 community gardens by 2005”. Another suggestion was the creation of monetary and other incentives, such as those offered to developers in the cities of Portland and Toronto, for the creation of rooftop gardens (Harris, 2009, p. 26).

 

The message: collaboration between governments, not-for-profit organizations and the community gardeners in the planning, creation and maintenance of community gardens is vital in allowing them to thrive.

10 Steps to a Successful Community Garden

The following video from the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture credits community gardens with increased physical and mental health improvements for individuals as well as community building benefits for communities more broadly. The video highlights ten steps for creating a successful community gardens:

  1. Get organized first and early

  2. Form a planning committee

  3. Identify your specific mission and goals

  4. Identify resources

  5. Identify sponsors

  6. Select a site

  7. Prepare the site and create a design

  8. Develop rules and guidelines for site use

  9. Initiate regular communication

  10. Celebrate success

If you're interested in learning more, hearing or participating in our discussions, please join us in the member section of our website Communities First where you can access the recordings, meeting minutes and schedule of future meetings, as well as CoP Charter and other foundational documents. 

DZ Profile.jpg

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dominika Zapolnik is a passionate community builder and not-for-profit communicator. She is a graduate of the Ryerson University School of Journalism and a MAPC graduate student at Royal Roads University. Her current work involves strategic communication and advocacy work for New Path Youth and Family Services and New Path Foundation; child and youth mental health leaders in Simcoe County, Ontario. Dominika is also a faculty member at Georgian College, mother of two amazing young people, and adopted mother to two-rescue pups from Greece. She currently resides with her partner in Midhurst, Ontario.  

References

 

Elise Harris (2009) The role of community gardens in creating healthy communities, Australian Planner, 46:2, 24-27, DOI: 10.1080/07293682.2009.9995307

 

Holsinger, A., Kreith, N., (2018, 04 03). Community Gardens - 10 Steps to Successful Community Gardens (Module 1 Part 1) [Video file] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWSlrRo2Ddw