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Community garden successes

Jul 15, 2012

A small city investment in a community gardens coordinator has paid large dividends, and may have silenced councillors who were once adamant that no tax dollars be provided for the position. Just six months of bridge funding to the Hamilton Community Garden network now has resulted in 15 new gardens and substantial fundraising success.

At the end of last year, council approved $15,000 in bridge funding to keep a community garden coordinator employed while additional financial support was sought from other sources. Since February Clare Wagner has secured over $25,000 of in-kind donations and “at least $50,000 worth of funding” for local community gardens, while overseeing the establishment of 15 new gardens and the expansion of two existing ones.

The expansions have added 16,100 square feet of plots and are expected to produce 16,000 pounds of food per year. There are now 58 community gardens in all parts of the city including 1000 square feet in the Binbrook fair grounds, and a set of raised plots in Waterdown managed by Bethel Christian Reformed Church.

The report to councillors anticipates new gardens by early next year in the Kirkendall/Strathcona and the Crown Point neighbourhoods, and notes that “there are 150 people on a waiting list who wish to acquire space in current community gardens with 20 - 40 more enquiries from sites that do not keep a list of potential new gardeners.”

The Community Food Security Stakeholder Committee and several community groups appealed to council in April 2010 for more support for community gardening, including a city-wide coordinator position, but the request was referred to the stakeholder committee after some councillors balked at adding another person to the city payroll.

Lloyd Ferguson said he had “real trouble hiring a staff person” and suggested that organizing the gardens “should be part of the gardening experience” and not utilize taxpayers’ money. Former councillor Dave Mitchell said he had complaints of weeds in a garden in his ward where there were “some nice homes”, and contended the gardens weren’t feasible.

“You can’t have 50 different people in a small garden and expect them to get along together. I don’t think it will work very well.”

The stakeholder committee subsequently obtained a one-year grant from the Trillium Foundation for the coordinator position, but acceptance of those monies in also raised concerns from some councillors in February 2011 who feared it would eventually mean using city funds.

Brad Clark asked for assurances that “there’s no cost to the taxpayer, and it’s an outside agency that has that person under their employ”, while Terry Whitehead suggested that if public expectations were created, then “who will pick up the tab” in future years for “areas that are out beyond our mandate”. Ferguson also raised objections, urging councillor to ensure they weren’t spending “a whole bunch of money on a horse that doesn’t have a great payback.”

An update provided to councillors in December of last year noted the establishment of 18 new gardens in 2011, including eleven on City Housing Hamilton properties and five through Neighbour to Neighbour. The staff report made no recommendations, but Sarah Wakefield, the co-chair of the Community Food Security Stakeholder Committee addressed councillors and noted the need for bridge funding while a new funding application was made to Trillium.

Approval of a one-time $15,000 grant was moved by Brian McHattie and won unanimous approval, although Ferguson continued to express some concerns. But there was nothing but praise for the gardening network and its achievements at last week’s Board of Health meeting with councillors Powers, Partridge, Clark, Jackson, Johnson and McHattie, as well as Mayor Bratina make supportive comments.

Powers suggested funding the coordinator position from city funds if the new Trillium application is unsuccessful, and McHattie urged examining how this initiative could help address poverty in Hamilton. He noted that some cities are providing municipal land for community gardens and others are planting fruit trees in parks to support gleaning activities.

The community gardening network is managed by Green Venture. The coordinator can be reached at Clare.wagner@greenventure.ca.

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