Community Gardens Come Alive in Edmonton
Most Edmontonians would be surprised to know that the city’s first community gardens came into existence in the early 1900s.
At that time, the gardens were known as “Vacant Lot Gardens.” According to the Edmonton Horticultural Society (EHS), “World War I brought food shortages which made vegetable gardening a matter of public policy,” and in 1916, a Vacant Lots Garden Club was formed, using empty land to cultivate much-needed produce. The Horticultural Society and the Garden Club soon became one entity, and the program, managed under the EHS, continued to rent out vacant lots in varying numbers (sometimes in the thousands) over the past century, with those numbers often dependent on the economy or political situations, such as during the Depression or in war years.
Edmonton’s long history of community gardening is experiencing a resurgence – thanks to increasing interest in sustainable food supplies, obtaining local foods, and reducing the amounts of pesticides and herbicides in the food we eat.
Though Edmonton’s growing season can often be short, the city’s northern location results in long days. In addition, the Government of Canada’s Canada Land Inventory states that much of the Edmonton area has “high quality agricultural soil.” These factors are conducive to good gardening in our city.
Today, Edmontonians by the thousands are creating communal gardens with numerous types of crops, for a variety of reasons. Living in a predominantly urban environment, many people simply want to be connected to their surroundings, and the food they eat. Others want to promote the local food movement, reducing global transportation of food stuffs, and the effects of corporate farming on the environment. Another group of citizens may wish to increase opportunities to improve nutrition, or eat organically, with less exposure to sometimes toxic chemicals. Many plant trees to improve air quality and help to reduce ozone in the atmosphere. Others see community gardening as a way to enjoy nature, get some exercise, or expose their children to growing things. And, some persons aim to beautify the urban environment, by growing plants, flowers and increasing green space to please the eye.
“Citizens connect with their neighbours”
In addition, with shared gardens, citizens connect with their neighbours in a way that is not always possible in a large city. These growers can also share and gain information about gardening in a social way. Community gardeners (as well as those with private gardens) also contribute food to those less fortunate, through organizations such as Plant a Row • Grow a Row, which encourages gardeners to cultivate extra produce for donation. This fresh fare is then distributed to the less-fortunate.
Also, many studies have suggested that community gardens contribute to safer neighbourhoods, increased property values, and the general mental, and physical, health, and well-being of citizens.
The City of Edmonton, and the non-profit group Sustainable Food Edmonton, support community gardening in the municipal area, and are excellent resources to use for people interested in starting, or joining, a garden initiative here. The two groups work together, along with community leagues, to assist residents throughout the process.
“Beautify the urban environment”
Currently, according to the city’s website, Edmonton boasts more than “30 community garden groups” and “60 different garden sites.” More exist in the wider metropolitan area. Fulton Place Community League is presently developing a community garden. The University of Alberta has its “Campus Garden,” as do other schools. Some churches have set up communal plots, as well. The Strathcona Community Rail Garden is another unique space. The diversity of the sites, dependent on the people involved in their creation, adds another dimension to the community garden experience.
Sustainable Food Edmonton’s (SFE) website gives detailed advice on starting and maintaining community gardens, and several more related topics, from urban agriculture, to composting, to involving children in gardening. SFE can even arrange workshops with their Community Garden Facilitator for groups of people interested in starting their own garden initiative.
If someone desires to learn about gardening in general, the sources above, area schools, and garden centres, offer multitudes of courses to teach individuals almost anything one could want to know about the subject.
Community gardens provide Edmonton residents with near-endless possibilities to improve their health and wellness, improve the environment, contribute to society, be creative, and have fun!
City of Edmonton
Sustainable Food Edmonton
Edmonton Horticultural Society
Plant a Row • Grow a Row
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada