Community Gardens in Ottawa? Yes, Please!
Nearly everyone gives two enthusiastic green-thumbs-up to community gardens. Just Food, a grassroots non-profit, along with its great group of volunteers, organizes and oversees the Community Gardening Network of Ottawa (CGN).
Fourteen years ago, four city communities planted their first communal gardens. This year, people in 28 Ottawa-area neighbourhoods are sharing land--and some labour--growing delicious organic fruits and vegetables on over 1,000 individual plots.
The CGN is currently committed to establishing a minimum of two new gardens each year. This year, they are starting three or possibly even four new sites. And the requests keep coming!
Interested citizens can attend Just Food's workshop, "How to Start a Community Garden," presented by CGN's coordinator Terri O'Neill. In the workshop, students learn that creating a new community garden takes time and effort, but that the rewards--in addition to the simple joys of gardening--are extraordinary.
While summoning community support is usually quite easy, finding a suitable location is sometimes a challenge. Many of the existing gardens are on public land, in parks or community housing property. Some are on private property.
Land-use issues must be addressed. While a neighbourhood park may seem ideal, not all are a good fit for community gardens. Further, each potential site must have its soil tested for contamination that could harm human or plant health. City contractors have tested all gardens presently in the network. Once established, nearly all of the gardens have compost piles on site to continually improve the soil.
In 2009, the City of Ottawa increased their annual CGN funding from $5,000 (dedicated solely to establishing new garden sites) to $75,000. The new Community Garden Development Fund was established to support both start-up and existing community gardens. City grants can now finance various projects, such as solving water issues, installing deer fencing and keeping the gardens going sustainably.
Throughout the year, the CGN also offers skills-building workshops about beginning-level organic gardening, natural pest control, seed saving, and food preservation. CGN will host the fifth annual Urban Agricultural Bike Tour August 21.
Over the next few months, the community gardens will be sprouting new, professionally designed signs, making it easier for neighbours to contact the garden coordinators and learn more about the CGN.
To find the community garden nearest you, or to download the CGN's excellent free Garden Guide (available in English and in French) visit www.justfood.ca/community-gardening-network/
Patrice Elston is an Ottawa-based writer.