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According to official sources, as much as 15 percent of the world’s food is now grown in urban areas. City and suburban agriculture takes the form of backyard, roof-top and balcony gardening, community gardening in vacant lots and parks, roadside urban fringe agriculture and livestock grazing in open space.Significant growth in urban agriculture has occurred in the past five years as many Canadian cities have seen firsthand the value that community gardens bring. According to cities like Victoria, Edmonton, Toronto and Sackville with community gardens in place, these efforts strengthen community bonds, provide food, and create recreational and therapeutic opportunities for a community. Some cities have seen resident’s property values increase and crime decrease. The gardens have also provided a means to promote environmental awareness and provide community education.

Other cities are supporting the same benefits of urban agriculture on a somewhat smaller scale through tree planting programs that also enhance the aesthetic of city neighborhoods. Initiatives like Vancouver’s Street Tree Planting Program ensures the city’s greenspace continues to grow, while its Edible Garden Project offers urban agriculture grants, distributes community garden space and educates citizens about the importance of growing and sharing fresh local food.

If your community is considering exploring a garden or a tree planting program, consider these pointers:

  • Create a municipal community garden program
    The Winnipeg Community Garden program, operating under the City of Winnipeg’s Public Works Department, protects the longevity of community gardens by acquiring land with open space funds. This program currently has over 50 garden spaces throughout Winnipeg, and helps citizens acquire, build, preserve and protect the gardens.
  • Create a municipally funded not-for-profit organization to support community gardens or tree planting programs
    The Community Garden Network of Edmonton is a nonprofit organization with funding from both provincial and municipal government sources, as well as the private sector. It provides support for community gardeners, and acts as a catalyst to promote the community gardening vision.
  • Include community gardens and trees in your general/comprehensive plan
    The City of Vancouver has made community gardens a priority. Last year it achieved its goal of creating 2,010 new community garden plots by 2010, and plans to continue fostering urban agriculture. Vancouver currently has approximately 4.3 plots per 1,000 people.
  • Allow zoning for tree planting and community gardens
    Ottawa has established a specific community garden category that can be zoned as a subzone within an open space zoning district. Identifying prime locations for community gardens aides in their creation and emphasizes the importance of this use to the city.
  • Create a community garden and trees committee
    Hamilton has a community gardens public advisory committee that advocates for community garden objectives. The objectives currently include expanding community garden opportunities throughout the city by establishing policies and implementing garden standards. Be sure to thank those advisory committee members willing to volunteer their time with mementos of appreciation, like recycled notebooks, Go Green lapel pins or really wow them with a garden tool kit.
  • Provide an easily accessible inventory of all vacant public/private lots and open space
    In the U.S., the Open Accessible Space Information System Cooperative (OASIS NYC) is a collaborative of federal, state, city, nonprofit and private organizations that provide online maps of all open space in New York City to help enhance the stewardship of open space. Offer the same in your community by hosting similar information online or provide city buildings—like libraries and town halls—with binders or file keepers that contain this information.
  • Promote the benefits of community gardens and recruit participants
    Community gardens are an affordable option for many cities because community volunteers are primarily responsible for the upkeep and the overall success of the efforts. But this also means that active participants are necessary to launching any community garden or tree planting program. Communicate new programs to constituents on a regular basis to recruit volunteers. Promotional items, such as organic grocery totes or plants in a box branded with your city’s logo and the name of your garden program are sure to help spread the word.

With financial support from private sector grants, provincial and federal governments and the backing of constituents, community gardens can provide great opportunities for cities to explore the benefits of urban agriculture. Perhaps your city may even realize that when you grow together, you grow together.

“Community Gardening.” Municipal Services and Research Center of Washington. Web.

“What We Do.” The Edible Garden Project. Web. 08. Feb. 2011.

“Community Gardens.” City of Vancouver. Web. 08. Feb. 2011.

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