City of Brantford Council unanimously voted to discuss the update to the City’s Community Garden Policy during a Committee of the Whole, Operations meeting on Tuesday, November 7, 2023.
The Community Gardens Program was originally created on March 23, 2015, after City Council proposed a resolution to allow third party stakeholder groups (such as Equal Ground Community Gardens, or EGCG) to launch, operate and maintain community gardens within Brantford.
Since then, the Community Garden Policy and Program has been managed by the Community Gardens Committee which is made up of Staff representatives from the Parks and Recreation Department and members of City Council.
On June 6, 2023, the Downtown Community Neighbourhood Association (DCNA) was looking to re-establish a community garden in the neighbourhood, and City Staff were directed to investigate appropriate locations for community gardens in all wards and to report back on potential locations.
As requested, on Tuesday, a report with data regarding inventory on current locations, water service availability, other factors, and constraints for future locations, was brought forward. It also features updated recommendations to the current Community Garden Policy.
The City of Brantford will work towards joining several municipalities in implementing up-to-date best practices for operating and managing community gardens.
The updated policy notes the importance of annual data collection to inform future program development as well as the success of operating sites. The update also provides guidance on the new approaches to the control and management of local community gardens, as well as detailed evaluation criteria to determine if a potential garden site is suitable.
Currently, the City and EGCG, support and maintain a total of 11 community gardens located in city parks.
Aside from parks, there are also five community gardens located on public properties including the Brantford Library on St. Paul, a fire station, the Marlene Ave apartments, Myrtleville House Museum, and the Police Station, which are managed by Brantford Mosque, EarlyON, Lansdowne Children’s Centre, Salvation Army, and Woodview Mental Health and Autism Services.
Food grown in these community gardens, is taken on a first come first serve basis for those community volunteers managing the garden. Any excess produce goes towards food banks and the like.
With Tuesday’s amendments to the Community Gardens Policy, the deadline for applications regarding a new community garden will chance from April 1 to March 1, and the growing season will be extended from October 1 to October 31.
The amendment to the policy also includes disbanding the Community Gardens Committee and will follow suit with other municipalities by designating a member of City Staff to make the final decision regarding all community garden decision making (such as community garden applications based on the approved site selection criteria.)
As far the site selection criteria goes, the current evaluation criteria is unclear and the new amended Community Garden Policy will now outline more detailed criteria to better determine the suitability of a proposed community garden site.
The policy will now put a “End of Year Harvest Survey” in place to help measure yearly community garden produce reports. This will allow the City to utilize the data to inform future community garden developments, highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of each site, and to determine if the site lease will be renewed for another season.
Not only did council discuss the updates to the current Community Garden Policy, but it has also initially approved funding for the Downtown Central community garden to install a garden water service.
City Staff has been directed to retain an appropriate contractor to install the water service (which will include a meter chamber and parks service box) in 2024.
The estimated $25,000 installation fee will be referred to the 2024 budget and be funded from the Council Priorities Reserve.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Councillor Dan McCreary had several questions for staff regarding the new policy updates including whether or not, with the City’s commitment to “creating a community culture that recognizes and places a priority on sustainability,” if that means the City will provide water service to all community garden sites over time.
Rick Cox, Director of Parks and Recreation, said that for the sites that don’t already have water service, the city currently supports them through the use of water trucks.
“The sites that don’t have existing water service, we can support through our water truck, which we do at multiple sites now, but that is not as sustainable as a pipe to the location,” said Cox. “So over time, yes, we would like to see the locations all have water service, preferably when the adjoining street is redeveloped rather than as a special project.”
McCreary also noted that the updated policy says that when an application is received for a new community garden, if it is incomplete, it will be returned to the applicant to fill out any missed information.
He then asked if there could be a deadline set to review applications so that volunteers have enough time to implement a site, order seeds, and schedule volunteers.
Staff agreed this could be implemented.
As per site requirements set in the updated policy, it states that the “Minimum setback of three meters from the edges of the Community Garden to surrounding amenities, property lines, hedgerows and trees may be required to allow for regular park maintenance.”
McCreary noted that while the three meters is fine when it’s close to a sidewalk, in some instances this could be too close to backyards. He asked if the minimum could be extended to five meters instead.
“We’re going to look at each site specifically to make sure that the site makes sense for not only the neighbourhood but for the community garden,” responded Cox. “The three meters is a minimum, so it could of course be more than that if that’s the preferred location.”
In response to the conditions of the Community Garden Policy stating that “the gardens will produce edible and ornamental plants for the personal use of the community members,” McCreary said “it seems kind of contrary to our desire to feed the community, to be growing ornamentals” and asked staff why that would be permissible. He wondered if they should strike ornamentals from the policy.
Both Mike Westwood, Manager of Cemeteries, Horticulture and Forest, and Gagan Batra, Manager Business Support and Sustainability, noted that the use of ornamental plants are to encourage more pollinators.
Councillor Richard Carpenter said he would rather not strike the use of ornamentals.
“The community gardens aren’t just for food. It’s a social aspect for the community, it’s for food and for pollinators’ he said. “The pollinators are important to keep the other gardens in the community flowing. We’re losing pollinators left and right, so I’m not in favor of striking that.”
In a vote of 10-0 the item passed and will come up for finalization during the regular council meeting later this month.