Getting your hands dirty with your neighbours builds friendships and helps the community blossom
BY CHARLOTTE D’ARCY
Denise Green used to walk by the Parkway Green Generation Garden in Mississauga and stare enviously at the thriving plots. Like so many people living in the GTA, she had limited access to green space where plants would actually grow. But after emailing the address she spotted on a poster outside the garden, Green was surprised to find herself, in short order, with her very own square of dirt to tend.
While she was happy to have secured the space, Green felt a little intimidated by the commitment. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it,” she explains. “But once I got started, I couldn’t stop. I would go every evening after work.”
Green became hooked on the delicious fruits and vegetables she was growing—and the blossoming community she found in the garden. She met other gardeners of all ages, and together they shared tips and ideas. They also helped keep one another’s plots watered and weed-free, including the one used by the local food bank. Green’s husband got involved, too, joining her on her nightly visits and helping her refill the water tank, one of the chores all the gardeners shared.
“It was quite fulfilling,” says Green. “It reminded me of when I was growing up in Jamaica. My grandparents were usually farming to supplement their income, and at one point my grandmother gave me a little patch in the yard where I would plant carrots. It brings back some nice memories.”
Green has already started her second year at the garden, and is excited to get her hands in the dirt. For her, the benefits go far beyond the bushels of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini she can share with friends and family—the biggest reward is the garden’s ability to unite a neighbourhood. “It gets people working together. It’s a real community there,” she says.
It may seem like Green just got lucky finding a community garden five minutes from her home, but Toronto, York and Peel are full of community gardens that anyone can join for a small fee (or no fee at all). We’ve rounded up five of our favourites, each with its own unique way of fostering community and giving back.
Where: 4215 Central Parkway East, Mississauga What it’s like: Run by Ecosource, an environmental non-profit, in partnership with the City of Mississauga, this garden was founded to encourage seniors and local youth to share gardening skills and knowledge. Today, its 40 plots are planted by people of all ages—seniors, single adults and young families—who are more than ready to lend a helping hand to their fellow gardeners. Members chip in by swapping tips and tools, and sharing the fruits of their harvest. Community groups can even rent their own patch, so if you and some friends want to share the load, you can sign up together. Good for: Someone who wants a family-friendly spot where everyone pitches in. How to join: Head over to Ecosource’s community gardens page to sign up for a plot, and to check out their seven other Mississauga community garden locations. Photography courtesy of Parkway Green Generation Garden
Where: Masaryk Park, 220 Cowan Ave., Toronto What it’s like: Started by Greenest City, a non-profit initiative focused on building healthy and inclusive neighbourhoods through environmental education, this 4,000-square-foot Parkdale garden has more than 50 plots manned by gardeners of different ages, backgrounds and socio-economic levels. Located in a neighbourhood experiencing rapid gentrification, the garden helps foster open conversation among neighbours who may have drastically different experiences in their community. Bonus: Members can also participate in regular workshops and talks. Good for: The urban gardener who wants to pair growing veggies with community activism. How to join: Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the waiting list for your own plot. While you wait, volunteer at one of Greenest City’s other garden projects, which support marginalized adults and youth. Photography by Monkey Business/Adobe Stock
Where: 16555 Humber Station Rd., Caledon What it’s like: Located within the Albion Hills Conservation Park, this non-profit working farm is focused on educating the public about sustainable agriculture and local food. Rent an allotment garden—ranging from 200 to 3,000 square feet in size, for as little as $35!—and you’ll get to grow alongside some very seasoned gardeners, many of whom are more than happy to share their tools and growing tips. This garden has a real community feel, with everyone pitching in on the communal pollinator patch. Plus, if you end up with more fruit and veg than you can handle, program coordinators will help you donate it to a local food-support program. Good for: The dedicated gardener who isn’t afraid to fend off the occasional deer or chipmunk. How to join: Email email@example.com to see what’s available, and check out the farm’s Instagram to get a feel for the place. Photography by Viktor Pravdica/Adobe Stock
Where: Vaughan Fire and Rescue Service Station #7-1, 835 Clark Ave. W., Vaughan What it’s like: Unlike many of the other allotment-style gardens on this list, the Growing to Give Garden is a collective, where members grow together. The initial idea came from a local firefighter who wanted to put unused land near his fire hall to better use. The City of Vaughan partnered with Seeds for Change and the York Region Food Network, a United Way-funded agency, to bring the idea to life. Today the volunteer-run garden provides fresh, organic produce to local organizations and community members in need. Good for: The gardener who wants to share the wealth with their community. How to join: Head over to the City of Vaughan’s site to sign up to be a volunteer. Photography courtesy of Growing To Give Community Garden
Where: 1369 St. Clair Ave. W., Toronto What it’s like: Located in Earlscourt Park, this garden is another collective effort to support food security in the city. Run by The Stop, a United Way–supported agency, this 3,000-square-foot garden raises produce that’s distributed through the organization’s community food programs, including their food bank. Volunteers get to take some of this bounty home, too—as they learn about organic gardening, take part in regular workshops and help out in the native flower garden. Good for: Gardeners who want to get a little education while they’re giving back. How to join: Email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (416) 652-7867 ext. 25 to get started. Photography By Zoe Alexopoulos
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