Community gardens take root in Windsor
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With the help of a $150,000 grant from the province, Steve Green is hoping to grow the number of community gardens and urban agriculture projects in Windsor.
The head of the Windsor-Essex County Community Garden Collective will spend the next three years expanding his community garden in Ford City — consisting of three once-vacant lots on Drouillard Road — while also liaising with council to help other green thumbs start similar projects.
"Powerful things happen when people get together and garden," he said.
The gardening collective started five years ago, and now includes 16 different projects and plots. Last year, they grew 750,000 pounds of food for local food banks.
After realizing they could benefit from greater co-ordination between the different gardens, the group applied for funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. They received the cash in April, and Green was hired in May.
"My goal is to work myself out of a job," he said. "I'd like to see the collective be in a place where there's enough coordination happening that it can self-regulate."
In terms of the gardens themselves, Green's task is to help them co-ordinate harvests, forge partnerships with schools, food banks and other community organizations, and to find other ways to raise money once the Trillium grant dries up.
He's also meeting with the city to help them incorporate community gardens into their official plan. Windsor already does lots to support the gardens — for example, community gardens on city land are exempt from property taxes — but Green says there's room for improvement.
"Over the last five years, we've seen a garden revival movement in Windsor," he said. "But we need a streamlined process to find support and get permission from the city to put a community garden wherever they want."
Currently, Green says the number of bylaws means that many would-be gardeners "get shut down before they even get started."
That's a shame, Green said, because gardens can help transform the vacant lots that dot the city into vibrant public spaces.
"Gardens aren't just about putting tomatoes on a sandwich," he said. "It brings families and neighbours together, it educates people... and can be an impetus for positive social change.
"I have one guy who says that if it wasn't for this garden, he'd be in the drunk tank every night."
Looking to the future, Green wants the city to borrow a page from Detroit's playbook and invest in urban agriculture projects. "Urban ag," as he calls it, is larger in scale than community gardens, and has the potential to be commercial.
Zoning laws make urban agriculture in the city a non-starter, but Green says he often hears from immigrants who want to grow food that isn't readily available in Windsor.
"I think we should be empowering new Canadians to pursue whatever forms of agricultural work they want, whether that's in the farms or in the city," he said.