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Flap over community garden coordinator

Feb 05, 2011

The Community Food Security Stakeholders Committee has obtained a grant to hire a community garden coordinator for 2011, but some councillors are worried there may be a future demand for city funding. One cited his personal experience with buying a horse for his daughter as a reason to fear a “multiplier effect” from “the whole theory of people having the opportunity to grow their own vegetables.”

The Ontario Trillium Foundation will provide $68,000 to cover salary, materials, administration and evaluation for a garden coordinator this year. The board of health agreed last April to spend $4000 each to help establish up to five new community gardens a year run by volunteer groups, but balked at the suggestion of a city-wide coordinator.

Brian McHattie hailed as a good news story the outside funding “to have an actual person working around the city to assist people in setting up community gardens”. Mayor Bratina agreed and suggested the experience could be helpful to other residents.

“It might be interesting to consider that in view of the changing nature of the economy and climate, that residents in general, as well as in the community garden scenario, may well be taking measures on their own, in their own backyard,” he observed. “And there could be best practices and things that we could be helpful with.”

But other councillors were less enthusiastic. 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.

“Through these pilot programs there is, I would think, an inference that if it proves out then we’re going to fund it moving forward,” he warned. “My concern I guess is that we’re going to areas that are out beyond our mandate, our core mandate, and we’re entering into areas where at the end of the day it may cost the taxpayers of this community a greater amount of money.”

Bratina responded that “the whole purpose of pilot programs are to bring forward new ideas” before the city makes a commitment. He stressed that and future funding from the city would be up to council, and tried for a third time to secure a motion to receive the report.

Instead Lloyd Ferguson joined Whitehead in expressing concern about the potential cost, and offered a warning from personal experience.

“My daughter got into riding and …we had to buy her a horse, and buy her a trailer, and buy a truck to haul it, and build a barn. It was a hundred bucks every time you put her in a show and she was all excited when she won five bucks. I’m just worried this could be the same thing.”

He urged councillors to make sure they weren’t spending “a whole bunch of money on a horse that doesn’t have a great payback.”

That brought McHattie back into the discussion – to apologize to the supporters of community gardens for raising the matter in the first place, and to clarify the position of the food security committee that he sits on.

“There’s zero funding from the city involved in this, zero expectation by the community garden network that the city would fund this,” he stressed. “They took matters into their own hands, and saw the need, and did the fundraising themselves, and I fully anticipate they will continue to do that. The city doesn’t have to be involved with dollars in everything that’s going on out there.”

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