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Entries in Community Gardens (7)


Sunday Garden Tour: Jasper, Alberta

Kudos to Jasper, a tiny town tucked in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, for the raging success of its new community garden. My parents alerted me to its existence, and took these photos for the blog.

According to a report in the local Jasper newspaper (where I found the background info on this garden), a 23-plot garden near the library began in 2010 as a pilot project. It proved successful enough that the town gave them a nice, new 51-plot space on some prime real estate: the grassy median on Connaught Drive, the main street in Jasper. Normally this space is covered with elk lolling around on the grass. Now with the community garden, it might be interesting to see how involved the fencing will need to be. (Elk are notorious garden shrub and food garden munchers, and the tall eight-to-nine foot fencing around the yards in the Jasper townsite is evidence of elk and deer's keen interest in raiding gardens.

Here are photos (taken by my parents) in Oct 2011. Given Jasper's northern and alpine climate, coupled with the miserably cold and wet summer we had in Alberta, I want to acknowledge how lush and lovely these gardens are looking, well past the "gardening" season in this part of Canada.

Kale and beets, so late-season crops doing well into October!

Flowers, grasses and herbs on a mound. Why not.

Cold frame to keep away pesky frostkill.


Playstation, old skool.Community supported!

Elk-high fencing is a must in Jasper.The very important compost pile.


Sunday Garden Tour: Yellowknife, NWT

 View of Old Town (foreground) and the rest of Yellowknife, NWT, Sept 10, 2011I have to say that going to Yellowknife, capital city of the North West Territories, has been on my wish-list for quite some time. Even though I live in central Alberta (which most Canadians erroneously think of as "the north," anyway), Yellowknife is a good 1500 kilomteters /932 miles up. Anyway you slice it, it's 20 hours of driving north.

Last weekend, I got my wish, as an invited speaker at the Territorial Farmers Association's annual fall harvest event. They invited me to give two-hour slideshow and talk about my up-coming book and the various models of urban agriculture I'd seen on my travels to their members. As it turned out, I had a crowd of about 50-some food gardeners / northern farmers / interested foodies who came from various communities in the NWT.

I hopped on a Westjet flight Friday mid-day and arrived one and a half-hours later in "YK," the largest community in the NWT with about 18,000 residents. (Yes, this is an unabashed shout-out for WJ because it operates direct flights from Edmonton to Yellowknife for about $400 round-trip; and Karl, from the crew, did the best Westjet safety demo version I have ever heard. Go Karl!)

For the talk, I picked a few chapters from my book and put together a number of slides for each city and cruised through photos of community gardens in Paris, amazing balcony gardens in London, a commercial rooftop vegetable garden in London, SPIN gardens in Kelowna, social enterprise urban agriculture models in Milwaukee, and a vertical farm in the making in Chicago. People asked questions along the way, laughed at a few of the funnier bits, and no one nodded off. Success.

Me, my laptop, and a projector

While I was happy (relieved) that my presentation was well-received, I was most excited to get to talk to these northern farmers. Depending on where they came from in the NWT, they were growing food on the Canadian Shield (YK), or in outstandingly rich floodplain soils of Hay River, or in a repurposed former hockey arena (Inuvik). Subarctic and arctic food gardening might seem like an hopeless cause, but I knew that with a bit of skill and physical effort, the short growing season was more than balanced by the fact that northern gardens got 20+ hours of sunlight in July and August. My aunt, uncle, and cousin live in Hay River...and I've seen the 400-pound pumpkins and the incredible market produce that they get from their gardens in just several weeks from seeding to harvest.

Already, produce was accumulating for Saturday's "bench show," when local judges would decide who got the certificates for the "largest" vegetable, "ugliest" vegetable, etc.

Produce grown by gardeners in Lutselk'e Community Garden, Lutselk'e has a pop of 318; located on Great Slave Lake, NWT

Saturday morning in Yellowknife

With the morning to myself, I explored Yellowknife by foot, soaking in the sunlight through the thin northern fall air. As I walked from the hotel in the commercial part of Yellowknife toward historic Old Town, I saw many front yard food gardens still pumping out produce on September 10, 2011 --- even though there had already been two nights of frost in Edmonton already at that time. The massive lake offers some protection to prolong the growing season past what I would have expected.

A particularly vibrant frontyard garden in Yellowknife, NWT, September 10, 2011

A lot of potatoes in this frontyard garden, with a few sunflowers on the perimeter.

 One frontyard cabbage! Yellowknife, NWT, Sept 10, 2011

Old Town Garden Yellowknife Community Garden, Sept 10, 2011 Yellowknife, population of 18,700, has four community gardens, according to those associated with the Yellowknife Community Garden Collective. Dave Taylor, the community gardens coordinator that I spoke to told me that there are 160 gardeners between these four sites. 

This is one, in the old town, a historic part of Yellowknife. I saw two of three that weekend. Each community garden reserves 1/4 of the plots that the gardeners tend and grow produce for donation back to the community. The two biggest expenses to get a community garden started is soil, because there is very little soil on the exposed bedrock of the Canadian shield rock, and fencing, to protect against animal raids.

From talking to gardeners and growers, the season is pretty much the same as in Edmonton. Plants go into the ground just after the May long weekend or early June, and with a bit of covering for delicate plants like tomatoes, you can stretch the season into mid-September. People were harvesting potatoes, beets, turnips. Looks like cabbage, kale, and brussel sprouts were ready for harvest soon too.View from back of Old Town YK Community Garden, Sept 10, 2011Incredible produce in a subarctic garden, Old Town Yellowknife Community Garden, Sept 10, 2011Brussel sprouts growing in Old Town Yellowknife Community Garden , Sept 10, 2011Purple cabbage, Old Town YK Community Garden, Sept 10, 2011The Canadian shield (very old, very hard, mineral-rich rock) seen behind the community gardenMore Canadian shield in the background of the Old Town YK Community GardenSoil is the major expense of starting a community garden in Yellowknife, making compost as good as gold, Sept 10, 2011


Panfried Whitefish, fries and salad for lunch at Bullock's Bistro, an iconoclastic YK restaurantNatural shoreline on Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife, Sept 10, 2011

After my self-guided walking tour of YK and lunch at Bullock's Bistro, I sat in on The Urban Farmer Ron Berezan's afternoon session Transform Your Yard: Create an Edible Landscape, which was gave me a bunch of ideas for next year's edible garden.

We ended the day at a community garden potluck, an epic communal feast with about 150 - 200 people and incredible northern foods, like smoked duck, smoked fish, delish scallopped potatoes, beets, and a beet-chocolate cake!

Coming Soon...Part 2: More impressive Yellowknife gardens...including subarctic quinoa.


Sunday Garden Tour: Paris Community Garden, October 2, 2010

This could only be Paris! Man in beret sits jauntily on creperie café terrace

Last October, I spent three days in Paris looking at community gardens, urban vineyards, and visiting the impressive Potager du Roi, in Versailles, just a 45 minute train ride from central Paris. 

Perhaps the best “find” was a community garden in the 13th Arrondissement. It was just a few blocks from my friends’ house, and we wandered over to take a few photos. We were immediately welcomed by a gardener and given a complete, comprehensive tour of the whole garden.

Here’s a quick excerpt from my book manuscript:

     As in most cities in Europe and North America, interest in urban food gardening in Paris hit an all-time low in the 1990s but started to rebound just as it was threatening to become extinct. In 1999, a group of “guerilla gardeners,” activists who plant food gardens on underused or abandoned urban sites without approval of the land’s owners, planted an illegal garden on a former industrial site. The project, called The Green Hand, got an official sanction a couple of years later when Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë supported urban revitalization and urban greening initiatives like Paris’ famous Vélib’ bicycle-sharing program and the city-wide ban on pesticide use after his election in 2001. Now, La Main Verte is the city’s official community gardening resource organization, and community food gardens are making a comeback to the capital. (In the last decade, there has been a renewed interest in the protection of local culinary traditions, so heritage produce and fruits — Pontoise cabbage, Montmagny dandelion, Argenteuil asparagus, Montmorency cherry, and the Faro apple have been back in vogue.) The City of Paris’ official municipal website listed fifty-eight community gardening sites in 2011.

     After the morning market trip to Marché Auguste-Blanqui, I set out to find a community garden in her neighborhood that a friend’s husband had stumbled across just a few weeks earlier.

Marché Auguste-Blanqui: Why would you shop at a grocery store in Paris when you can shop here three days a week in your own neighbourhood?Marché Auguste-Blanqui: The Tomato Guy!Purple carrots at the Marché Auguste-Blanqui, Paris.Cheese vendor at Marché Auguste-Blanqui, Paris(OK, enough about this market, but the range of food -- cooked, cured, raw, and fermented -- was inspiring. There were fish mongers scaling fish right on the street, rotisserie chicken vendors selling hot roast, whole chicken, market gardeners, a few clothing stands, and baked goods all happily co-existing at a street market that would never, ever be allowed to exist in North America due to our extreme love of regulating direct-to-consumer food sales.)


Jardins familiaux du boulevard de l’Hôpital community garden, 13th arrondissement, Paris, France, October 2, 2010

   The Jardins familiaux du boulevard de l’Hôpital community garden is squeezed between a 1960s French government subsidized-housing apartment block on one side and high-rent apartments on the other, and is accessible only by a sidewalk that cut between the two buildings. As we approached, we noticed a wiry grey-haired man fiddling with a row of grape vines, bifocals sliding toward end of his nose and an unlit cigarette dangling from his bottom lip. His crew neck sweater, à la Jacques Cousteau, had a few pulled threads. He could only have look more French if he was wearing a beret and had a baguette tucked under his arm as he pruned his vines.

The Community Garden from a different viewpoint.


     Griffault explained that had been gardening here for five years. Before then, he’d never as much watered a houseplant, having been born and has lived in the very same Paris neighborhood his whole life. “I was born in concrete, and I will die in concrete,” he declared rather enthusiastically. He learned to garden only when he got his plot, mostly by watching the other gardeners.

     As we slowly walked his little plot, he tested our knowledge in a type of name-that-plant agricultural quiz show. The radishes, a bay leaf tree, tomatoes, leeks, artichokes, celery, and strawberries were easy enough. He then moved on to more challenging plants, like lovage and cinnamon basil. His fearlessness in his gardening was endearing. For a Parisian-born Frenchman, his sense of international culinary adventure was impressive.

     He pulled a long, white, two-pound Daikon radish, the kind that gets grated into strings and piled on sushi plates in Japanese restaurants, wiped the sticky clay from it and handed it to Jesse, who really didn’t know what to make of it. He also had shiso, a spicy, floral Japanese basil, growing on his plot. An Antillean gardener has a chayote squash vine. Another has a stand of giant cabbage on remarkably long stocks. Some plots were like a United Nations of herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables. We spotted a pumpkin too, definitely a non-traditional French food. And very late-bearing strawberries — it was the first weekend of October.

Griffault picks a ripe "Nipple of Venus" tomato

     And of course, his row of Chasselas grapes, though the 2010 humid conditions made them impossible to grow unaffected by moldy fungus. Nearby, he pointed to a pêche de vigne tree, a late-ripening peach, on a neighboring plot. Griffault told us that these peaches were traditionally planted among the grapevines as snacks for grape-pickers during harvest.


     “Nipple of Venus!” he shouted naughtily as we approached a tomato plant with purplish red tomatoes with a slightly pointed tips was his next stop. “It’s a new one we’re trying this year.” At this point, we were clearly pillaging from other gardeners’ plots. “Don’t worry, I’m allowed,” he reassured, waving his cigarette-holding hand over his head. As we walked he picked whatever was ripe and handed it to Jesse who was happily filling her cloth market bag.


 Direct to consumer is so normal in the French food economy of many cities.



(PS: I'm on a French kick these days because my friends from Paris came to visit me in Canada.)


Sunday Garden Tour: Penticton Community Garden, British Columbia, Canada

Penticton stretches out at the south end of Lake Okanagan and the north end of Skaha Lake. It's essentially a hot, dry sandbar between the two lakes in the British Columbia southern interior. Penticton couldn't be further away climate-wise from Vancouver if that's the only BC city you know.

Penticton is on the 49th parallel, so about an hour's drive from the US border (Oroville, Washington is the closest US city, just across the border). The days in July and August are generally in the mid-30s C to high-30s Celsius (85 F to 100 F). Penticton gets an average of 330 mm (13 inches) of precipitation annually giving it a semi-arid climate. The rabbitbush and sagebrush grasslands are more Wyoming than British Columbia, but that's part of the South Okanagan's appeal for me. Summers (usually!) are hot and sunny, and its smack in the heart of BC wine country.

The Penticton Community Garden is a 13-year old community garden on a 1/2-acre of slope on Vancouver Avenue. It's on prime real estate, as it looks over the marina and the lake, but it has a history now and it's a beautiful feature of this busy road leading from the Naramata Bench to Lakeshore Drive in Penticton. So let's hope that the land stays in use as a community garden.

Last year, Penticton Community Garden president Carol Allen, and vice president Pat Bennet spent time one morning showing me around the garden (which is locked and fenced, though the fence is chainlink so visually the plants and beds dominate). All photos below were taken by me on July 7, 2010.

Penticton (BC, Canada) Community Garden, from the uphill slope view. The oversized rusty steel pheasant was donated to the city by local sculptor Lawrence Cormier to enhance the Penticton Community Garden, and its especially lovely in the late summer when the vegetation is burnt out from sun and in the winter when it can be grey and cloudy over the lake. The garden is not very visible in this photo, but look for the gardener in the straw hat and red top. You can see the fencing that surrounds the garden once you've located her.

Penticton (BC, Canada) another shot of the community garden looking west-ish into Penticton's waterfront.Wooden boardwalk paths through Penticton Community GardenSweet peas climbing on a fence in a plot at Penticton Community GardenRed nasturtiums (nasturia?), Penticton Community GardenBundled cauliflower, Penticton Community GardenCompost bins, Penticton Community GardenWorms, under padlock!Strawberries, Penticton Community GardenBird cage garden art, Penticton Community Garden

"Skyrocket Project" Native plant project on the land surrounding the Penticton Community GardenPenticton also has an active garden club since the mid-1950s.


Urban Public Orchard in Calgary, Alberta, August and again under snow

Beautiful gala apples growing in a community public orchard in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, August 2010.Urban public orchards -- orchards planted and maintained by city governments with fruit harvest available to the surrounding community -- are not uncommon in the UK and Europe. They are often adjacent to, or integrated into community gardens.

When I found out about a pilot project by the City of Calgary for three public orchards, I made a point of going there before frost, which means getting there in before the end of August. (Calgary is located at 51° 2′ 42″ N, 114° 3′ 26″ W; it's close to the Rocky Mountains, and you can get frost pretty much anytime from September on.)

This particular orchard is minutes from the downtown skyscrapers of corporate Calgary. It's at the end of a residential street and it backs onto a steep slope. It's also adjacent to a great community garden site, the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Garden.

A bike path runs along the side of the community garden and orchard through this residential neighbourhood.

The steep slope helps with air movement to keep winter's chill off as well as pests.

Yes, you can grow pears in Canadian cities.Here's the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Garden, Aug, 2010.

High-production in a short growing season. That's the Canadian food-gardening way.

New fruit tree seedlings integrated into a "typical" residential neighbourhood park in Calgary, Alberta.

Last week, I had to make a trip to Calgary, and it occurred to me that it would be interesting to take (and post) photos of this same public orchard in the winter. For people who don't live in the north, these dramatic seasonal swings are mind-boggling, I know. But yes, orchards do tolerate winter, and whatever winterkill that happens will need to be removed in the spring, but here's what the same orchard looks like just four months later. It won't thaw and burst back to life until May.

Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Public Orchard, Dec 2010, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

At least in winter, we can appreciate the bird nests in nearby trees.

Same perspective as a photo I took in Aug.The community garden, at rest. Dec 2010, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Here's a video of this orchard's ground-breaking celebration. Please let me know if you come across any community / public orchards of note. I'm looking for a couple more for my book.