After more than four years of working to build an educational urban garden, the Penticton Urban Agriculture Association has given up on the downtown location they have occupied for the last two years.
The association was formed with the goal of promoting awareness about food security and the possibility of gardening in an urban environment. After long negotiations with the city, PUAA was able to secure a three-year lease on property at Ellis and Nanaimo Street to create the Centre for Urban Agriculture in mid-2011. Their first summer focused on cleaning up the site, which was covered in weeds and detritus from the demolished Nanaimo Hall, but after two summers of education and growing food for the food bank and the Soupateria, C.Urb is closing after the city decided not to offer a long-term extension to the lease.
“They gave us a one-year lease that started the middle of April and ended Dec. 31. I don’t think that adds up to 12 months,” said Kathryn McCourt, PUAA president.
Mayor Garry Litke said city council was concerned about what he calls a highly visible location.
“Council is very concerned it be maintained in an attractive condition,” said Litke adding that PUAA representatives had told council their priority was on growing food and education, not appearance.
“There is a degree of unsightliness about it. This is not a manicured lawn and those are the kind of standards we are being held to,” said PUAA organizer Merle Kindred, commenting that C.Urb was a working garden.
“We have tried to be as good as we can about it, but we are a very tiny group. There are just six of us on the board this year and we have 28 members.”
Kindred said there was no leeway in the city’s offer.
“They said we were to vacate full by the end of the year. We were told very curtly to return the site to its original condition,” she said. If they really did that, she joked, the city might not like the results.
“I don’t know where we are going to get thigh-high weeds by the time we vacate, and we are going to have to get a whole bunch of construction debris, concrete chunks and rebar.”
“We were willing to offer them another year, with the understanding that they were willing to make the property more attractive,” said Litke, adding that a longer-term lease, or a renewal option, was not on the table.
“We said it would be one year and then we could look at it again. We are not at this time, willing to lock ourselves into a long-term lease. That whole area is under review and we want to keep our options open.”
PUAA has decided to close down the garden by the end of June, when their current lease ends, and leave it in orderly condition.
On May 10 they are holding a sale from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., selling as much of their equipment they can, and allowing people to take away mulch, soil and compost from the raised garden beds. McCourt said PUAA is still going to stay together as an organization.
Litke said the city is still willing to work with PUAA and find an alternate location.
“That might become a future conversation. We have a significant inventory and we would be happy to tour them and let them take a look,” he said.