Garden program gets off the ground

Sharing Land 4 Food matches would-be gardeners with homeowners who have some extra outdoor space

  • Mar. 8, 2012 9:00 a.m.
Volunteers at C.URB

Volunteers at C.URB

Long on yard space, but short on the desire to garden?

The Penticton Urban Agriculture Association is hoping to turn fallow backyards into harvest bounty through a new program called Sharing Land 4 Food.

Chair Eva Durance said the program is designed to appeal to several different kinds of residents. People who live in apartments or other areas with little outdoor space can volunteer their time and energy to grow vegetables in someone else’s garden.

“Anecdotally sometimes you talk to people and they say, ‘Oh, I’d really like to garden, but I don’t have any place to do it,’” Durance said, noting that many people have given up the work of green-thumbs because of interest or health reasons. “There’s tons of land that is just grass and not being used particularly for anything productive owned by people, especially older people, who have gardens but don’t want to take care of it anymore.”

The association needs both gardeners and landowners to sign up, and from that, a database of information will be built to put people together based on proximity, to facilitate easy travel. All information will be kept confidential, apart from matching gardeners and garden owners together. Once they’re matched, a possible land-use agreement will be devised.

“Hopefully when we get enough people in the next month, we can put people together who don’t live too far away. From there on, the two groups involved, they make their own arrangements. We’re just kind of the dating service,” Durance said with a chuckle.

The two parties can discuss suggested topics, like hours of maintenance among other things. One element commonly found in a land-use agreement is for the homeowner to receive an agreed-upon amount of produce from the plot.

Durance said the association has one board member who backyard gardens six different properties, and manages to produce enough vegetables to sell at the Penticton Farmers Market each year.

If more people latch urban agriculture concepts like backyard or pocket farming, then discussions can take place about the importance of growing one’s food and sustainable food production — which could result in inspiration for the next generation.

“This backyard farming movement takes a huge commitment, but because the land here is so expensive, the young people can’t farm,” Durance said, noting that it could introduce others to agriculture as a way of living. “We’re also hoping that there will be some existing farmers that will be willing to lease or allow the use of some of their lands, and help the young farmers get going. Because there’s a lot of agricultural land that’s not being productively used here, we have to support our farmers. Give them the opportunity, because most of them just can’t afford the land.”

Offering lessons in agriculture was the driving force behind the association’s Centre for Urban Agriculture (C.URB), a newly created plot at the old Nanaimo Hall site to help foster food gardening in urban areas.

“It really is aimed at promoting more local food production and availability for everybody,” Durance explained. “We’re going to need it — especially in the next decade, and probably sooner rather than later.

“Our programs, it will probably take a while for them to really catch on, but it is for the long term.”

The group obtained a lease from the City of Penticton to take the site at Nanaimo and Ellis Street as the home of demonstration gardens and on-site facilities for administration. Training also factors into C.URB, as the teaching gardens will host courses on various facets to gardening like composting. Food grown on site goes to the food bank and the Soupateria.

Although the group started with a few plots last year, Durance said a bigger work party this last weekend has set the C.URB site up with expanded growing areas — allowing the Penticton Urban Agriculture Association to begin the education.

Both C.URB and Sharing Land 4 Food welcome newbie gardeners, and Durance said they will offer courses on what it takes to garden, inch by inch and row by row.

“It’s amazing how much can grow in a very small space. It isn’t something you have to have a degree in. I grew up in farming and gardening, so it’s second nature. But most people didn’t. It looks like this really arcane art,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to do with courses that really start with the basics. How do you locate a garden, how do you best prepare the soil, what crops are best to grow, really start at the basics, how to prepare a soil. Then we’ll have ones that are more advanced for people who have been gardeners for a while but would just like to learn a bit more or different things.”

Anyone interested in the program is asked to send their name, address and contact information to pentictonurbanag@gmail.com. Landowners are also encouraged to include the approximate land area they would like used. Those looking for information about the association can visit www.puaa.wordpress.com.