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Lillooet Park Community Garden, photo: Heather Johnstone

We went to the District of North Vancouver (DNV) Council Meeting last Monday to present on the merits of supporting more community garden development, and to report on the success of the newly built Lillooet Park Community Garden. The agenda was stacked with food related presentations – the Edible Garden Project, Delbrook Staff Garden Initiative, the Youth Safe House Secret Garden, comments on Metro Vancouver’s Draft Regional Food System Strategy, and the results of a survey on Neighbourhood Perceptions of Local Food and Gardening.

We are so thank-full that over a dozen people came out to support and speak about community gardens. Having so many warm bodies and different perspectives on why community gardens are important for DNV residents made a real impact! The animated and heartfelt descriptions of the joys of lugging rocks during the hottest days of the year during the construction of the Lillooet Park Community Garden, meeting new neighbours and friends, and getting a chance to learn new skills showed Mayor and Council the diversity of reasons why the community supports more gardens. At the end of the evening Councillor Lisa Muri said, “I am no longer a skeptic on the value of community gardens and what they mean to residents of the North Vancouver District.” That’s a big step forward, and we were happy to also hear support for community garden initiatives from Mayor Walton, Councillor Hicks, Councillor McKay-Dunn, and Councillor Nixon.

As Mayor and Council discussed a number of items on the agenda Heather and I found ourselves scribbling notes and biting our tongues. Sometimes it’s hard not to interject and add your own thoughts to the discussion! Instead of getting kicked out of Council Chambers for disrupting decorum, we decided to save our thoughts to share in writing today.

What is the distinction between neighbourhood gardening and large scale “food security”?

One of the interesting points that was brought up a few times by Counc. Little is the notion that neighbourhood gardening does not impact food security. We beg to differ, and I think there are a few other members of Council that would agree there is a very real and tangible connection.

  1. If we’re talking about food security on an individual basis then we cannot assume that everyone can afford to have access to fresh healthy produce all the time. In fact there are many people on the North Shore who would benefit to access to a community garden plot to grow nutritious and culturally appropriate food for themselves and their families. Gardens provide people with access to grow safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate food even if they don’t provide all of the food they will need.
  2. Counc. Hicks mentioned the role that Victory Gardens played in providing families with food in England post WWII. Community gardens will need to play a similar role again in the future as food supply decreases and costs increase due to climate change. We are several generations removed from our agricultural roots and need to re-build the capacity and knowledge on food growing within our communities if we hope to have the same success of past Victory Gardens. Community gardens provide the perfect learning environment and hosts for workshops and training sessions available to everyone in the community to revive those lost skills. Community gardens are not the end all and be all of food security for the North Shore, but they are a more than simply recreational and therapeutic. They are one vital component of a diverse strategy that helps move us towards a resilient and sustainable food secure community.

Whose responsibility is food security?

During the discussion of the Metro Vancouver Regional Food Strategy draft, Counc. Muri and Bassam were both supportive of the strategy’s proposal to preserve Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) land. This is great, but there is no ALR land in the DNV. Although I’m happy to see them jump on board the preserving ALR lands, their support for something that has little to do with food security or production in the DNV is not a replacement for “home grown” initiatives on the North Shore. A regional strategy for food security is incredibly important, but I think that a perspective that focused more on “what can we do to support this…” rather than “Metro Van should…” would do wonders.

Passing the cost of community garden building over to community members would defeat the purpose of accessibility, and it is unrealistic to rely solely on businesses to sponsor community initiatives like this. However there is room for the DNV Council to address what their role is in supporting community garden development without being responsible for paying for them all. The upcoming Official Community Plan (OCP) is a great opportunity to encourage or require all new developments to include community garden space. If the District is not going to support garden development financially, why not include them as a community amenity to be provided by developers. As the ‘Network of Centres’ proposed in the Draft OCP is developed increasing density is only going to mean increased demand for garden space: building them in as these centres develop is going to be much easier than trying to add them later!

Community Gardens are not Cost Effective?

When it comes down to cost, I just don’t see how an elliptical machine offers more value to the community then a community garden – that’s an argument we’re hearing from some Council members! Although a gymnasium may see over 200 people in a month, there are construction, staffing, maintenance, electricity, etc. costs to consider over the lifetime of that infrastructure.. Gardens on the other hand are a onetime construction cost (the garden society takes care of ongoing maintenance), and provide a public space and learning environment for the entire community. In fact, the District is saving money every year by no longer having to maintain the garden site. I think that if you compare the cost of each over 20 years the garden might not seem so expensive! Both have value from a recreation perspective, but both appeal to different folks as well – I’m personally not a community member who gets any use out of an elliptical machine!

Overall the response at the Council Meeting was positive, but I think that there is work to be done to articulate the connections between neighbourhood gardening and food security, and the economics of community gardens to Mayor and Council. Moving forward… we know there are lots of people in Lynn Valley who want a community garden. Our question to you is, “If you were a community garden in Lynn Valley, where would you be?”

Here’s the video we created to thank Mayor and Council for their support of the Lillooet Park Community Garden.