Thunder Bay community garden concerns 'overblown', Ontario urban agriculture expert says

Much of the protest surrounding the newest community garden in Thunder Bay, Ont., is groundless, according to Joe Nasr, an urban agriculture expert in Toronto. A group of Thunder Bay residents have said they are concerned the latest project will attract criminals, vandals and vermin.

'Community gardens as havens of biodiversity is increasingly recognized,' says Joe Nasr

Joe Nasr, of Toronto Urban Growers and the Centre for Food Security at Ryerson University, says concerns over community gardens, like the one being built in a Thunder Bay school field, are overblown. (June Komisar)

Much of the protest surrounding the newest community garden in Thunder Bay, Ont., is groundless, according to Joe Nasr, an urban agriculture expert.

A group of residents, led by Ray Smith who chairs the Concerned Taxpayers of Thunder Bay,  gathered May10 to oppose a garden that is being built in the city's Victoria Park neighbourhood.

They said the garden will decrease property values in the area, as well as attract criminals, vandals and vermin.

However, Joe Nasr with the Centre for Food Security at Ryerson University, and a coordinator of Toronto Urban Growers, said that is not the case.

'Less hanging out around community gardens'

The benefits of community gardens are "very diverse" and include everything from health benefits like exercise and nutritious produce, to social benefits such as community engagement, he said.

Throughout his 25 years in the field, Nasr has often heard the "classic myth" that crime comes with community gardens, but he said they often have the opposite effect. 

"Community gardens are used daily, literally, especially in the season. The gardeners have to go and take care of it, to water it, to pick the fruits and weed it, and so on. So there's actually much less hanging out that happens around community gardens as a result of the continuous presence." 

When the garden isn't being occupied, Nasr said it's often neighbours who keep an eye on the space and warn trespassers to stay away. 

The concern about vandalism is also "overblown", he said. 

"There are so many stories about unfenced gardens in areas that have issues, where the garden is often not touched—there is actually no vandalism," said Nasr. 

Pests not a problem

No vandals, but what about pests? 

Nasr said the presence of pests, such as rats, depends on how the garden is maintained. 

"It's just part of gardening that there can be less desirable animals, but the converse aspect is that the role of community gardens as havens of biodiversity is increasingly recognized. There is more variety of vegetation, of wildlife, everything from bees to potentially less desirable animals—that depends how it is set up," said Nasr.

The economic impacts shouldn't be underestimated either, said Nasr,  

Community gardens boost property value

Research from the University of Wisconsin has shown that community gardens can increase property value.

In Milwaukee, the value of property located within 250 feet of a garden increased by $24.77 with every foot. The increase in value means an increase in property taxes, which in Milwaukee was estimated to contribute approximately $9,000 to city tax revenue.