Life

Budget includes adding part-time, seasonal community garden co-ordinator

By Ross McIntyre, Special to The Packet & Times

Gardening is not usually on our minds in late November, and the gardens themselves are often mulched over, beginning their dormant winter.

The topic of community gardening popped up again, though, last week as our mayor and council prepared the budget for 2017. The process of balancing interests, priorities and ongoing commitments for a city is a large, complex one. One small but significant item that emerged in this process is the $10,000 allocated to a part-time, seasonal community garden co-ordinator role.

Orillia has a collection of community gardens ranging from small raised boxes in the downtown core to a number of churches that host plots on their land to the flagship garden in High Street park in the south end. The High Street garden is on city-owned land and, while it has existed and grown for more than five years, the garden was the subject of concern for the city around liability and insurance. The creation of this role is a step toward mitigating some of these concerns and creating a channel for expanding community gardens on city-owned properties.

While the new role won support of council in the budget, three councillors who worked specifically on this piece are Sarah Valiquette-Thompson, Jeff Clark and Tim Lauer. All were eager to provide comments on this role and how it may help shape the future of community gardening in Orillia.

“I feel community gardens are important in fostering a healthy community on so many levels,” said Valiquette-Thompson. “It acts as a space free from judgment; anyone is free to partake in their hobby of gardening, relax, clear their minds, meet friends, socialize, teach and educate children on how to grow healthy foods, as well as help grow food for those in need.”

Lauer had this to say: “I regard this $10,000 allocation as acknowledgement by council that they see a significant upside to a successful community garden program and it’s time to kick start the idea.”

On the creation of the new position, Clark added, “it demonstrates that the City of Orillia and city council acknowledge the importance of taking action toward further supporting food security for all of our citizens.”

These insights speak to the heart of why community gardens matter. They provide healthy outdoor activity and an appealing hobby for some. They also provide much-needed fresh food from a reliable source for others.

When asked about the recent insurance concerns around the gardens on city property, the councillors suggested there was more work to do but that this role is a step in the right direction.

“If the insurance policy belonging to the city was to include the High Street park garden, we needed to solely dedicate a person on staff to moderate the garden,” Valiquette-Thompson said, acknowledging this idea originated in discussions with members of Orillia Community Gardens.

“There will still need to be some discussion about insurance,” said Clark, “but the co-ordinator will ensure that safe gardening practices are being followed at each garden site with regular visits, will be available for training and monitoring, and will communicate concerns and solutions to community garden groups and City of Orillia staff immediately.”

The new role also creates a channel for possible expansion of community gardens to other sites on city property.

“The greatest thing is that we have identified that a specific city individual can assist groups interested in starting a community garden and allow our current community gardens on municipal property to continue on without the issues of red tape and administrative barriers weighing them down,” said Valiquette-Thompson.

This role puts Orillia in a small collection of municipalities that are investing in food security as a basic need for their citizens. While it is early, this decision provides support and cause for optimism to all who are impacted by the community garden movement in Orillia.

Ross McIntyre is a director at Camp Couchiching and the Couchiching Community Initiative. He is passionate about outdoor education and community building. This column profiles community organizations dedicated to Orillia and opportunities for local youth engagement. If you have a column idea, email rossmcinty@gmail.com.



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