With growth of the community garden program running wild, the society behind the Central Okanagan’s 15 garden sites wants councils to lean on developers to build plots into new housing.
“I think the city owes it to the public to encourage developers to do this,” said Sandy James, Central Okanagan Community Gardens coordinator. “It’s a beautiful space that they can provide for the residents in that building and, by doing that, those people will meet each other in their garden and they will become a stronger building and get to know each other. This is not just about growing a tomato and having a yummy tomato. It’s the social connections.”
James has worked with the COCG since 2003 and takes charge of building new garden sites. The non-profit organizaiton now has more than 350 plots between Oyama and West Kelowna, but there are more than 200 people in the City of Kelowna alone waiting for a place to plant the fruits, veggies and flowers.
“Back in 2010, when I built Sutton Glen (in Glenmore), that’s when it really took off. That one was over-subscribed from the outset,” said James, noting people saw how well it was run, how little it costs to have a plot and demand skyrocketed.
Calls for more gardens follow development COCG has noticed.
“They’re building so many condos and apartments, but there’s no place for people to garden,” said Ruth Mellor, COCG president, noting its a key form of recreation for a large portion of the population.
Mellor is personally in charge of the gardens on Barlee Road and says there was only one apartment building in the vicinity when it was built eight years ago; today it is surrounded by condos and townhouses.
“It seems like when someone is building a multi-family development they really are going to have to plan for gardens,” she said.
Consultants have suggested the City of Kelowna incorporate planning policies that hone in on urban agriculture, Mellor said, and she cannot see why developers could not be given a break, zoning variances or development cost charge reductions, in exchange for planned community gardens.
COCG is tallying up all the developments that have put in garden spaces, who built them, whose in charge of them and how much people pay to garden in the privately-run spaces in order to prove the extent of demand.
“There’s this feeling like: Who would take care of garden plots? Or that the gardens might be unsightly,” she said. “But it would actually, probably, cost buildings a lot less to have the tenants caring for their garden plots than it costs for landscaping.”
With people downsizing from houses to condos, gardening offers a way to meet and connect with a neighbourhood, Mellor pointed out.
“So much of it is beyond the actual garden,” she said.
Luke Stack agrees. A Kelowna city councillor and the founder and executive director of Society of Hope, he’s built community gardens into many of the social housing projects he runs and says he prefers a carrot versus a stick approach.
“If somebody has a little bit of a wait list, it isn’t such a bad thing because it encourages people to look after the existing plots well,” he said.
He has encouraged the COCG to look beyond the city and even beyond government for grants to find other forms of support to make the program more sustainable, and says he isn’t fond of the idea of dictating gardens into bylaws or development guidelines.
With this said, Stack says he would gladly encourage developers and non-profits to build gardens in, if it’s an option the developer selects independently.
“No one has forced the Society of Hope to build in a community garden,” he said. “We do it because we can see the benefit of it. We’re using our existing land, but in my opinion, using it more wisely. We’re using it to create more food and to create a community environment. For me, it’s like whether I planted a bunch of trees and plants or a community garden—it doesn’t cost me anymore either way.”
His gardens have become meeting places where residents share a coffee and one resident is even farming enough potatoes to share them with his whole building—a win, win in his view.
James said she believes the generation just starting to garden is more socially conscious and understands that urban agriculture offers a better alternative to cheap organic produce from Costco, which is produced off the backs of cheap labour. She believes demand will only continue to grow.
Plotline behind gardens:
- there are over 350 community garden plots in the Central Okanagan
- some 200+ individuals are wait-listed for gardens
- a plot costs $20 plus a $5 key deposit to access a shed full of tools on each site
- gardeners are paying for the insurance costs of running the plots and supplies
- water is covered by the municipalities (at low agricultural watering rates), the three churches where located on church property, one well for the private land plot in Oyama, and the Oyama Community Centre
- the society accesses grant dollars from municipal governments throughout the Central Okanagan, in-kind donations from businesses, the Central Okanagan Foundation and Interior Health Authority