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Spike in demand for community gardens in Richmond

575 people are on the waitlist for community gardens in Richmond as of Tuesday
Community garden
Community garden plots in Richmond. Over 500 people are currently on the waitlist for a community garden plot in the city.

Demand for community gardens in Richmond has “exploded” over the past year, according to the Richmond Food Security Society.

As of Tuesday, there are 575 residents waiting for their chance to plant their own flowers, vegetables or herbs in a community garden plot.

“We’ve seen that the pandemic has really shown the faults in our food system…So that insecurity around food sources has really pushed people to alternative sources,” said Sarina Clay-Smith, urban agriculture program manager for Richmond Food Security Society, which oversees the city’s community gardens.

“When we rely so heavily on importing foods, it can cause a lot of people to be worried – like when the pandemic shut everything down – if people are going to be able to source the same food.”

The gardens can also help reduce social isolation and provide a sense of community, said Ian Lai, executive director of Richmond Food Security Society.

“It’s a great place for people to gather and learn together,” he told Richmond’s parks, recreation and cultural services committee on Tuesday.

Last year, there were 225 new signups – nearly double the 134 waitlist signups in 2019. So far this year, 46 people have added their names to the list. For some gardens, Clay-Smith said, the wait can be as long as three years.

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, councillors voted to move ahead with the plan to build 200 community garden plots on the Garden City Lands this summer.

Coun. Harold Steves, however, said even more plots are needed.

“People are really into gardening through the pandemic, and a lot of them are looking ahead and saying, wow, we’re going into another pandemic…in terms of climate change,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.

“So people are desperate to get garden plots and to get gardening.”

Clay-Smith agreed that there’s a definite need for more community gardens in Richmond – particularly with such a large waitlist and low turnover at existing plots.  

“We don’t have it as a system where you go in for five years, and that’s your time and you move on,” she said.

The proposed Garden City Land plots still need approval from city council and the Agricultural Land Commission before they can be built.

Gardeners pay an annual membership fee, which ranges from around $40 to $90, depending on the size of the plot, Clay-Smith said.

These funds are used to manage the gardens, pay staff wages and cover liability insurance on behalf of the gardeners and for supplies such as tools and hoses.

Richmond Food Security Society is also looking at expanding its gardens, for example in city centre or east Richmond, depending on demand, to help ease the waitlist burden.