Edmonton

Pop-up gardens sprout across Edmonton during pandemic

Aspiring green thumbs in Edmonton are getting a helping hoe this year as more people try growing their own fruits and vegetables amid uncertainty about future food supply in COVID-19 pandemic. 

City providing 350 garden containers to 29 sites in Edmonton

The Westwood Community League will tend to 15 pop-up garden beds on a city-owned field in central Edmonton. (Kim Ellis/Westwood Community League)

Aspiring green thumbs in Edmonton are getting a helping hoe this year as more people look to grow their own fruits and vegetables during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The city has delivered 350 pop-up plots to 29 sites in a variety of locations — from fields to parking lots to existing community gardens — to give residents a chance to start gardening or expand on an existing one. 

The Westwood Community League in central Edmonton now has 15 canvas pop-up containers on a city-owned field near the league's building off 121st Avenue and 105th Street. 

Katie Hayes, a board member and manager of the community's inaugural communal garden, told CBC News that the league never had the space to set up their own, before now. 

"It's a really great opportunity to be able to test it because we just haven't had that opportunity in the past," she said in a video interview Wednesday. "We definitely will be learning as we go because it is our first community garden." 

The city is providing the planter boxes and soil to each selected site while gardeners must supply their own plants, seeds and tools.

Planter boxes are placed three metres apart to allow for physical distancing. 

Not everyone who applied got in on the pop-up action.

The city had to choose from among 79 applications. 

Shannon Wagner, supervisor of operations program delivery and partnerships, said her team followed set criteria in deciding which groups would get the containers. 

"We definitely received an overwhelming number of applications," Wagner said Wednesday. 

The Queen Alexandra Community League was one of 40 that got denied. 

"There were a number of adjudication factors used, such as surface, gardens nearby, applications/projects in the works and the QACL application didn't rank as high as other applicants," Wagner explained. 

Groups had to demonstrate a commitment to gardening and show the intention to have a permanent community garden in the future. 

They also had to express willingness to follow the city's new requirements around collective gardens and Alberta Health Services public health orders.

Neighbourhoods were chosen based on the number of grocery stores and/or the number of multi-family buildings in the community. 

Hayes said Westwood was likely chosen as a priority neighbourhood with many residents limited resources to grow their own food. 

"Our community has a number of apartment complexes in it and so a lot of people don't have the space to grow their own food over the summer," she said. 

"We wanted to give people in our neighbourhood the opportunity to do something together this summer that can be done in a way that is physically distanced." 

Hayes said produce from the garden will be free for residents. 

The Westwood Community League will tend to 15 pop-up garden beds on a city-owned field in central Edmonton. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

The city is also watering the pop-up garden beds twice a week, even those with access to city water like the Downtown Edmonton Community League. 

The DECL received seven containers at its garden in the Alex Decoteau Park, adding to the existing 35 that accommodate between 50 and 55 people in the area. 

Cheryl Probert,  garden manager, said the extra seven alleviates some of the demand on the waiting list. 

"With the pop-up garden, we now have an opportunity to add additional gardeners which we're excited about," she said in an interview Wednesday. 

"I think it's a terrific idea that someone can just put a garden in their local park for example and that the city will help support that effort with providing all of the supplies and the water."

Pop-up garden plots at the Hamptons Community League are in the parking lot near Sister Annata Brockman School. (Darine Krysko/Hamptons Community League)

The Hamptons Community League in the west end also qualified for 15 beds — now set up in the parking lot north of Sister Annata Brockman School on Hemingway Road.

Lynda Sherman, president of the community league, said the volunteers will plant and tend to the gardens over the summer, which will also be used for gathering — at a distance.

"The gardens are going to be one of those meeting spots." 

Sherman said the plots will double as a learning environment for some 2,000 students that attend the nearby schools. 

"The kids, when they see vegetables grow, they immediately increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables, and when they learn how to garden, they actually take it in for generations," she said. 

They also plan to plant edible flowers like nasturtium. 

"Our little plant identifiers will tell you what it is, when it will be ready, we invite them to pinch the mint and take a smell. Everything in the garden will be edible." 

Gardens could take root

Probert said she'd like to see the pilot become more permanent. 

"I hope it's a raging success and that it's something that they can find a way to do in the future, not just this year." 

The city estimates the cost for the planters, soil and signage is approximately $35,000. 

Since the pop-up gardens are temporary, the city will remove the planters in the fall after gardeners harvest their produce. 

The city is also encouraging gardeners to donate some of their bounty to the local food bank or a charitable organization. 

@natashariebe

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