Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/6/2020 (291 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Not every Winnipegger has a green thumb but, during the restrictions of a pandemic, many could eventually develop one if the city makes it a bit easier to get their hands into the soil.
The City of Winnipeg is considering allowing some unused city properties to become sites for community gardens. That’s nothing new but what has changed is that many people have more free time as a consequence of COVID-19. People are not travelling as much as usual, many have empty evenings that used to be filled by sports and entertainment, and a greater number of people are unemployed.
The COVID-19 lockdown already spawned a positive side-effect when the city temporarily restricted vehicle traffic on some streets to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy outdoor exercise. Another idea that should take root is to let people plant and harvest on city land that is vacant.
There are already many community gardens in Winnipeg — there were 234 as recently as 2018, half of them serviced by the city. Typically, a community group is responsible for membership in, maintentance of and programming for a community garden, and enters into a lease agreement with the city. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to grow together, such gardens invariably add character to a neighbourhood.
They do much more than that, of course. Community gardens can help address food insecurity. They bring together residents from a neighbourhood and help break down social barriers. Particularly relevant to our current emerging-from-lockdown conditions, they also help reduce social isolation, while providing a way to maintain social distancing. The long-term benefits to mental health from participating in co-operative garden work are well documented.
Of course, gardening takes time, effort and patience. And it’s unlikely that even dramatically increasing the amount of land being used to grow food in the city would produce enough food to eradicate hunger — though in recent years, some gardens have proven so productive that people were stealing fresh produce right out of the ground.
On June 16, the city’s standing policy committee on property and development, heritage, and downtown development heard information from the Riel community committee regarding the potential use of vacant city property for community gardens. Coun. Brian Mayes, the meeting’s chairman, noted that residents were able to get a community garden at St. Vital Arena up and running in 10 days, thanks in part to the combined efforts of Jeanette Sivilay from the Winnipeg Food Council and St. Vital Minor Hockey.
Concerning a portion of land on Oustic Avenue that could be used for a community garden, Rodney Penner told the committee that when considering whether to use city property for gardening, it is usually because people in the area have made a request for it. Without strong interest from the community, such gardens are unlikely to succeed. Though Mayes disputed that the Oustic area’s residents had little interest in a garden, pointing again to the example in St. Vital, the committee voted to receive the report as information. It’s unlikely any new garden will be up and running there before the 2020 growing season is over.
Fortunately, some neighbourhoods are already on board. Coun. Janice Lukes said residents in the Waverley West ward were interested in the initiative, and brought forth a recommendation from the Assiniboia Community Committee that city administration be directed to review all city-owned lands in the ward and identify two potential sites for community gardens, and report back within 120 days.
There are many benefits to expanding community gardens. The city should support residents’ efforts by making vacant land available through an easy-to-understand process, and residents, working through or with community groups, should let the city know they are interested in building and managing community gardens.
As a cost-effective way of improving a neighbourhood’s quality of life, health and safety, it’s an idea that deserves to be nurtured, especially during the pandemic.