Friday, May 7, 2010

Barrie becoming a community that gardens together

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

As a long-time director on Living Green’s board, I regularly receive inquiries about starting community gardens. We’ve always supported the idea, but lacked the resources to create and manage one ourselves, while the City (who would need to be involved) never got very excited about our suggestions along these lines. Until now, that is.

Through a combination of changing attitudes and the persistence of some key players, Barrie has officially opened its first Community Garden. Located in a corner of Sunnidale Park, off Coulter Street, there are now 35 plots which have all been rented for the 2010 season for the amazingly affordable price of $20 each.

Community gardens provide many benefits. Urban families can grow their own food, with expert advice, and re-connect to the land and seasons. Team-building takes place; relationships are strengthened. The pure joy of eating what you’ve grown with your own efforts is available to more people.

Plot renters range widely in gardening skill, socio-economic background and age. Some are apartment dwellers, but many are not. Many novice gardeners are hoping to learn from the more experienced. Several groups have rented plots for educational purposes, including Athena's Counselling and Advocacy Centre, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Barrie's Native Friendship Centre and Simcoe Community Services.

How did we get here? The persistence of citizen Angela Bick and “urban harvester” Kyla Cotton helped keep things moving. Barrie City Council, under the recommendation and urging of Councillor Strachan and the Communities in Bloom committee, agreed to support the project, while the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit and the Barrie Community Health Centre also assisted with drafting policies. The City is providing land, compost & mulch (from the yard waste collection program), and fencing. Local businesses such as Home Depot, Botanix, and Urban Harvester have offered supplies and advice.

Living Green funded this year’s project coordination and sent volunteers to build the garden last fall and this spring. Even Fair Trade Barrie joined in, providing coffee & tea at the building sessions and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The garden was constructed using a method called sheet composting or “lasagna gardening,” which involves layering different materials on top of the existing grass, which does not need to be dug out or tilled.

One of the garden’s specialties will be heritage plants, varieties of vegetables a little different from the ones you find in the grocery store. Not so suitable for modern mass industrial farming, they respond well to personal attention and reward growers with produce which is far tastier and more nutritious.

For the first, trial year, water will be drawn from barrels, but we hope that next year the City will hook up water service. Another hope is that businesses or other organizations will donate one or more sheds for storing tools and supplies.

Although this year’s plots are all rented, you can get on next year’s waiting list now to show your support for expanding the gardens to more plots and parks. Just go to and enter “community gardens” in the search box (or click here). If this pilot project gets sufficient public support, it will be expanded and come to a neighbourhood near you. So sign up for the waiting list, and tell your representative you want to see Barrie growing in ways besides population or area!
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

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