Wednesday, August 17, 2011

'Absolutely amazing': Urban garden a welcome downtown oasis

Thanks to the Daily News for 
this positive coverage of the event:

The vegetable garden is bordered on one side by a wall of chipped stucco and on the other by an empty lot filled with dirt, rocks and the powdery remnants of three demolished buildings.
Only 15 feet wide but stretching the length of the property, this collection of raised beds is home to sunflowers, tomatoes, beans, basil, chard and plentiful squash whose leafy vines spill over the edges of the boxes.
“The before-and-after pictures are absolutely amazing,” said Laura Kalina, a community nutritionist with Interior Health.
“We’re just so pleased with how it turned out.”
What started as a pilot project earlier this year was officially declared a success on Tuesday as organizers, volunteers and City officials gathered to celebrate the Kamloops Public Produce Project at 121 Victoria St. — the first of its kind in the city.
Part harvest celebration, part ribbon-cutting ceremony, the event was chance to highlight a truly communal project that could be replicated anywhere in Kamloops.
“It’s really the result of the community coming together,” said Kalina, who is also a member of the Kamloops Food Policy Council, the group that came up with the garden idea.
With funding from Interior Health, horticultural expertise from the Thompson Shuswap Master Gardeners and help from more than 50 volunteers who nurtured and watered the plants daily, Kalina’s crew transformed a vacant lot into a free food source.
“It certainly seems like a success,” said property owner Casey VanDongen, as he watched people mingling in the garden.
VanDongen said he volunteered the land because he liked the concept of a public garden.
“It seemed like a good idea to me,” he said.
VanDongen has agreed to let the garden stay indefinitely, though its future could be cut short if a neighbouring landowner decides to build on the adjacent lot.
“If he builds there won’t be enough sunlight,” said VanDongen.
Which is why much of the focus of Tuesday’s event was on the need for more landowners like VanDongen who are willing to donate space for public gardens.
“Right now this land is not permanent, so we’re looking for a more permanent spot,” said Kalina.
“Maybe a developer has a property that’s not being used? It could be City land, or a private person who has property. We’re looking.”
Among those who spoke publicly at the celebration was Robin Reid, an assistant professor in Thompson Rivers University’s tourism management program.
She’s been studying the public garden as part of a larger research project on community gardens and their role in food sustainability.
Next month, she’ll present some of her findings at a conference at the University of Cumbria in Portugal, Spain, and will talk about some of the research gathered at the downtown garden.
“I wanted to see how people were engaging with the garden and what they’re response was to it,” said Reid.
“It’s amazing how many people said they love coming down here and just having a green space to go in a cement city and be surrounded by food.”
Reid has also discovered a curious trend in perceptions about the garden. While everyone applauds the produce project, Reid says not everyone is using it.
“Not everybody thinks that they are eligible to take from the garden,” she said.
“So, people that are of higher income or can support themselves seem to shy away from taking food from the garden because they feel it’s just for poor people. And yet, when you look at the diets of people, a lot of people with higher incomes could use some nutrition and public produce.”
Reid said it would take a change of mindset for Kamloops residents to accept that the garden exists for everyone.
In the meantime, the garden continues to be nurtured daily by volunteers, its dozens of vegetables and herbs just waiting to be plucked free for the taking.

1 comment:

  1. It has been facinating to watch the public produce project develop over the spring and summer. I admit, I am one of those who walk through regularly, but never consider picking anything because I have plenty of food and garden at home myself. Maybe next time I visit the garden I'll treat myself to a carrot or cherry tomato snack! Thanks so much to the visionaries who spearheaded this project, and to the hard-working folks who created such a thing of beauty in our city.