British Columbia

'Guerilla gardeners' say they're growing food for low-income neighbourhood

A small group of volunteers has started gardening on a neglected lot in Prince George's inner city. Their plan? To grow free produce for the low-income neighborhood — and build community.

Volunteers with rakes and trowels take over neglected lot in Prince George's inner city

Charlotte Williams and her children discover the garden work under way near their home in the VLA neighbourhood. 'I think it's amazing,' she said. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC )

They call themselves "guerilla gardeners."

And on a sunny, windy Sunday, a handful of professionals, artists, retired people, and farmers, wearing shorts and gardening gloves and sun hats, plant seeds in a neglected city-owned lot in an inner city Prince George neighbourhood. 

They say they're getting their hands dirty in Millburn Park to grow food for the neighborhood.

"We thought we would do something revolutionary and just make food for people who need it," said April Ottesen, busy preparing dozens of raised beds for seeds. 

The gardeners say they're planting seeds to grow food for the neighborhood. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC )

"This food [will not be] for a price. We are just showing up to garden and grow food," said Ottesen.

For years, Ottesen was a successful caterer and downtown café owner. She championed food from local farms, and advocated for food security in northern B.C.

"People are now starting to think about food security, during the COVID crisis," she said during a break from gardening. "If we get cut off from the rest of the world, where are we going to get our food?"

Despite Prince George's farmers markets and farm-gate food sales, Ottesen says the area only grows about two per cent of the food it needs.

"Our grocery stores can run out of food in as little as three days," she said.

Ottesen says Prince George used to have five dairies to feed the local market. Now there are none.

Ottesen and her volunteers see growing food here as a symbol of what's possible. 

April Ottesen put out the call for volunteers to get their hands dirty. For decades, she was a succesful restauranteur and caterer who relied on local food products. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC News )

As volunteers pick up garbage, rake leaves, and turn a compost pile, a neighborhood resident and her children walk over to see what's going on.

Charlotte Williams lives just a few doors down. 

Williams is surprised to see people gardening in her neighborhood, and thinks she might join in. 

"It's refreshing to see," she said. "I think this is amazing because who doesn't love growing things?" 

"It's a good coping mechanism, especially for these [COVID] times," said Williams. "In my heart, I feel it's beautiful."

Before planting seeds, volunteers clean up garbage. (April Ottesen/Facebook )

Niki Hanson is no stranger to these inner-city raised garden beds. 

For several years, as part of the POUNDS project, a harm reduction group, she secured a small grant to garden with people living in poverty.

"Some of them were homeless, some of them were sleeping in the bushes over there," Hanson said. "They worked their butts off and took home some produce."

"This might be the 'hood, this might be the ghetto. But people have a lot of pride here," Hanson said.  

A municipal spokesperson said the land where this group is gardening belongs to the city.

But Michael Kellett, senior communications officer, said the city "currently has no involvement with any gardens at the site."

About the Author

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous national and provincial journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary. Based out of Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.

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