Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Row by row, garden shares are spreading across the city

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Ah, spring -- when a Winnipegger's fancy turns to getting some greenery in that muddy, newly visible backyard. Or if you're part of a garden share, perhaps in somebody else's.

It's a simple concept that's slowly but surely gaining traction in the city: connecting landless wannabe gardeners with those who have the space but can't or don't want to garden in it. The gardeners get a place to put down roots, and the landowners get to see their land put to good use -- and, depending on the arrangement, a share of the veggie proceeds.

A small organization in South Osborne is helping area dwellers make the connection. The South Osborne Community Co-op started three years ago and hosts a range of programming, including an intergenerational garden program and, for the first time last year, a garden-share project.

"The community seems to be super receptive and supportive with everything we're doing," said the co-op's president, Evan Bowness, who helped found the group in 2009.

For 25-year-old Bowness, the co-op marked a dramatic life shift from business-minded student on a football scholarship dreaming of law school and Bay Street living to environmentally focused sociology major with hopes of pursuing a PhD.

Bowness credits his change in focus in part to a series of classes with University of Manitoba professor Rod Kueneman -- now a board member at the South Osborne co-op -- dealing with how humans interact with and affect the natural environment. It was a "totally life-changing" look at everything from global environmental crises and industrial agriculture to the challenges of sustainability.

Bowness said he felt compelled to act after the classes wrapped up. A lifelong resident of Riverview, where there's ample green space, his mind turned to gardening and food.

"Food is the central piece of community," he said. "You can talk about all these issues as they relate to food."

The garden-share program started as a pilot project with six families, helped out by a provincial grant. This year they're hoping to expand to as many as 20 more participants, Bowness said.

"It was a sharing kind of relationship between someone who wanted to garden and someone who had garden space," he said.

Bruce Coyston, one of the half-a-dozen initial participants in the project, opened up his backyard to a trio of neighbourhood gardeners.

"I had a weed-filled backyard -- lots of dandelions," he said. With Kueneman's help, new sod was laid and a garden space created, and the neighbours gardening in the space shared the potato harvest with Coyston.

"I'm particularly fond of potatoes, and I have much less area to mow in the backyard now. Hardly anything," said Coyston, who expects to take part again this year.

There are no special tricks to a successful garden share.

"The structure of the program doesn't really determine that. It's what the participants are like... It all comes down to just finding really good people," Bowness said.

But there are advantages to starting up a program with no serious overhead costs. Converting a lawn to a garden space can be as simple as covering it with cardboard and organic matter for a summer.

"You can do this project with no funding, which is really great about it," Bowness said.

The co-op's intergenerational garden project, meanwhile, came about as a garden share of a different sort. Four different garden sites around the neighbourhood were offered up by organizations including the Riverview Health Centre and Lord Roberts Community Centre, with the goal of getting daycare kids and area seniors gardening together.

A garden share doesn't always require a backyard. St. Boniface resident Linda Postma has, with permission of the company that owns it, converted part of a vacant field next to her home into a garden site. Her family shares a house with Postma's sister and brother-in-law, and the two families share the garden space, as well.

They've opened up the land to two other families in recent years: a pair of apartment-dwellers looking for a space to plant, and more recently, a River Heights couple with too tiny a yard at home to start a garden.

"It's just great sharing it with other people," Postma said. "I'm really such a believer in community gardens and would love a community garden." Postma paused. "I guess that's kind of what we're doing."

lindsey.wiebe@freepress.mb.ca

Other ways to share

-- Fruit Share Winnipeg: This program aimed at connecting Winnipeg homeowners in possession of unused fruit trees with those who can use the pickings has seen phenomenal growth: from 10 volunteers and 20 homeowners in its first year, 2010, up to 201 volunteers and 150 homeowners last year. They expect further growth this year. The fruit harvest is split three ways: a third for the resident who owns the fruit tree, berry bush or rhubarb patch, a third for the volunteers who collect the harvest and a third donated to charities and community groups. More information at www.fruitshare.ca or by calling (204) 272-8520.

 

-- Winnipeg Community Garden Network: if no backyards are forthcoming, try seeking out a community garden, a shared gardening space for multiple participants. The Winnipeg Community Garden Network is a hub dedicated to connecting area gardeners and sharing ideas. They're also in the midst of updating their list of community gardens, so drop them a line if there's one in your neighbourhood. Online at www.facebook.com/Winnipeg.Garden.Network


-- Sharingbackyards.com: This national site hosts regional maps of people looking to share or find gardening space. Winnipeg's map is a little sparse, with some outdated listings, but the site does turn up high in Google search results, meaning you might stand a better chance of making a connection.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2012 J16

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