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June 25, 2014 | CREBNow

Making a comeback

Community gardens not a new trend in Calgary

* Part two of the three-part series YYC Grows

While community gardens may seem to be a new trend in Calgary, they've actually been around a century. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Vacant Lots Garden Club's first meeting.

"It started because they were really interested in getting town planning information and the goal behind it was they realized they kind of had a produce crisis," said Gael Blackhall, co-ordinator for the Community Garden Resource Network of the Calgary Horticultural Society.

"Fresh food was really expensive and 100 years ago had to travel from B.C. and of course by the time it got here it was fairly wilted and really expensive."

The Vacant Lots Garden Club allowed homeowners to lend their land to gardeners who would grow
flowers and produce. Blackhall said the club peaked during the Second World War when there were more than 3,000 active vacant lot gardens active in the city. Of those, one remains: the Bridgeland/Riverside vacant lots garden, these days designated as a heritage site.

Blackhall has been with the Horticultural Society since 2008. At that time, there were a mix of 11 public and private community gardens. In the six years since, that number has blossomed to 148 private and public community gardens.

"There's a lot happening," she said. "By this time, a lot of the established gardens are already harvesting their cool crops like their spinaches, their lettuce, their radishes. The harvest
is already on for the cool crops, so [community garden culture] is very healthy."

Retiree Bert Einsiedel helped organize the Varsity Community Garden at the Varisty Community Centre. He broke down the importance of community gardens into different points, the first being community gardens offer an opportunity for people who live in condos and apartments, or for those whose backyards might be too shady, to have access to garden plots.

"The second thing is it provides a gathering place," he said. "Sort of like a watering hole for like minded people of all ages because anyone can garden anywhere. I can garden using my containers here at home, and I do, but what's missing here is the community."

If a garden is attractive, it can be interpreted as an asset to the neighbourhood as well as giving a boost to real estate property values, added Einsiedel.

For anyone looking for a nearby community garden or for groups thinking of starting a garden of their own, Blackhall recommended the Calgary Horticultural Society website at where there's a database of community gardens in the four quadrants of the city as well as a
manual on how to start a garden.

Read part one, A peek at permaculture here.

Tagged: Bridgeland/Riverside vacant lot garden | Calgary | Calgary Community | Calgary Horticultural Society | community garden | vacant lots garden | Varsity

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