Community garden demand grows in Richmond

Four new community gardens have been proposed for Richmond over the next couple years, but one councillor is hoping the city will follow up on a comprehensive farm plan for the entire municipality.

The four possible allotment garden sites, at Garden City Lands, Gardens Agricultural Park, Riverport Waterfront and Cook Neighbourhood Park, would allow another 250 people to garden, but demand seems to be always increasing and the city should provide a lot more, according to Coun. Harold Steves.

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“As you see the price of food going up and the problems we have with contaminated food and chemicals in food (…) more and more people will be wanting be involved in gardens and grow their own food,” he said.

Steves, who chairs the parks and recreation committee where the topic came up last week, would like to see a continuous program whereby the city is adding more land for gardens and incubator farms, something he said was approved by council a few years ago.

“So, it’s not just three or four gardens, we’re looking at an overall plan for the community, to implement a farm plan,” he added.

The program went on hold, according to Steves, when the province started planning a bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel, as that project would have expropriated land from the former Fantasy Gardens site which was earmarked for incubator farms and allotment gardens.

One of the proposed gardens that was before the parks and recreation committee last week was at this site, renamed the Gardens Agricultural Park.

The city currently has nine community garden sites, run by the Richmond Food Security Society, and there are also three other community garden sites run by other organizations with a total of 568 garden plots. Waitlists for the city sites have a waitlist of two to three years with currently 265 people.

Amy Salizon was at her garden plot at the Terra Nova Community Garden in late March cleaning up and preparing for this year’s gardening season. While she gets a good harvest from her small plot, much of her pleasure is derived from being at the community garden site in the fresh air and socializing with other gardeners.

“The people are friendly – they’re a cool group,” she said.

They spend time admiring each other’s gardens and sharing plants and ideas.

“I enjoy it – that’s the main thing,” she said.

Growing up in the Philippines, Salizon’s family had 20 acres where they grew bananas, peanuts and vegetables. Everyone in the Philippines grew what they could even if they just had a small backyard or frontyard, Salizon explained. Even her grandmother grew vegetables just in a few pots as that was all she had space for.

With her bounty at the Terra Nova Community Garden, Salizon grows six or seven varieties of beans and is able to fill her freezer with beans to last the entire winter.

Throughout the gardening season, Salizon is at the Terra Nova Community Garden two or three times a week after work or on the weekends tending her plants.

Salizon also knows her produce is organic as she doesn’t use chemical fertilizers – mainly just cut grass to add nutrition and leaves to cover the garden over winter.

The Garden City Lands community garden, which could possibly have 100 garden plots, is planned for the south side of the property where Farm Fest has been held, but it needs to first go through an approval process with Agricultural Land Commission. And a garden being envisioned at the former Fantasy Garden site, on the east side of what is now called Gardens Agricultural Park, also with 100 plots, has been in limbo while discussions have taken place on the future of the George Massey Tunnel and what might replace it.

A small garden is also proposed for Riverport Way, behind Watermania close to the Fraser River, with 10 to 15 plots. A partnership with Cook elementary to build another garden with 25 to 35 plots was also outlined in the parks and recreation meeting, but city staff said it’s still to be determined whether it will be on school board property or on city property in the park. If council moves forward with these plans, these two gardens will be part of the 2020 capital budget.

There will always be a need for more gardens, said Ian Lai, executive director of the Richmond Food Security Society, and, even the four new proposed gardens, with the city densifying and residents scaling down into apartments, he doesn’t expect the wait times won’t decrease.

“There will always be a need for wellness and spaces, greenspaces – it’s part of horticultural therapy for people,” Lai said.

Community gardens also provide a great sense of community, Lai said, the society has been focusing on workshops and engagement activities to combat social isolation.


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