Community Gardens: The New Yoga Studio?

Seems like everywhere I wander these days I encounter a community garden. In the past two weeks, I have happened upon amazing gardens in East Village at Fort Calgary Park, the backyard of the Banff Trail Community Centre and side yard of the Altadore School & Community Edible Garden.  I was literally gobsmacked by how healthy the plants at the Altadore School Garden were. 

East Village's community garden includes a funky shade structure that makes for a great place to sit and people watch.

The plants at the Altadore School &Community Edible Garden were humungous, twice the size of anything I have seen in other gardens.  

The Banff Trail community garden is a more typical community garden in my mind.

Community Gardens Gone Wild?

Not only does it seem like every school and every community centre in the City has a community garden, but more and more backyard and front yards being convert to or incorporating vegetable gardens also.  Is this just a trend or have the public become more and more aware of the value of eating healthy. Are community gardens the new yoga studio?

Pretty much everything you need to know about Calgary Community Gardens is at the Garden Resource Network hosted by the Calgary Horticultural Society. I was amazed to learn there are 169 (87 public and 82 private) community gardens in Calgary as of July 2016.  No wonder I am seeing community gardens everywhere I wander these days but didn’t in the past - there were only 12 community gardens in 2008 and 130 in 2010.

Link: Garden Resource Network

Past vs. Present

Interestingly 100 years ago in Calgary and most cities across North America, it was common practice to have a vegetable garden in your backyard and some might even have a pig, a few chickens and a cow. On a recent walking tour of West Hillhurst lead by David Peyto for Historic Calgary Week, he informed us it was common practice early in the 20th century for new homeowners to buy two lots - one for the house and one for the garden.  I can’t imagine anyone doing that these days. But who knows, “the times are a changin.” 

Fast forward a hundred years. Houses have more than tripled in size with a double garage as big as many of the cottage homes built in the early 20th century.  New homes sport huge concrete driveways in the front and big decks filling lots that are often half the size they once were. Room for a garden is minimal at best. In older communities, mature trees and tall infills create so much shade there isn’t much sun for a garden. In addition, more and more Calgarians are living in apartments and condos so there is no back or front yard, so it isn’t surprising that community gardens have become more popular.   Hence, the popularity of community gardens in the 21st century.

Using schools, community centres and parks for communal gardens is a great idea as it also fosters a sense of community as people learn gardening tips for each other and help each other with watering and weeding.

Here is a garden in the backyard of an older cottage home that illustrates how at one time the garden space too up more lot space than the house.  

Another lovely backyard garden in an established Calgary community. 

The front yard can work also for a vegetable garden, especially if it is on the southside where it will get more early spring sun - at least on this side of the equator it will.

Community Garden Generate More Taxes?

I wondered if anyone has looked at how community gardens impact house prices as has been done with proximity to parks, transit and bike lanes. Indeed, in 2008 Real Estate Economics (the oldest academic journal focusing on real estate issues) published “The Effect of Community Gardens on Neighboring Property Values” by Ioan Voicu and Vicki Been. The authors documented that homes near community gardens increased in value by up to 9% after five years of the garden being developed.  Furthermore the positive impact of community gardens was greatest in poor neighbourhoods and increased with the quality of the garden. The authors also noted that the increase in property values as a result of community gardens was worth billions in additional property tax revenues for cities.

Link: "The Effect of Community Gardens on Neighboring Property Values"

East Village's community garden would be a good example of a high quality garden with is ornamental fence and patio stone walkways.  

Altadore School also has many highend features like the metal vs wood raised gardens, poured concrete sidewalk and two large circular concrete areas that will become outdoor classrooms. 

Banff Trail has a wonderful orchard as part of their upscale community garden. 

Calgary Mega Community Garden

Did you know that Calgary has an 11-acre community garden just off of the Trans Canada Highway (you can see if you look south just west of the Stoney Trail intersection)?  Grow Calgary, a group of 50 dedicated volunteers (and hundreds more on a casual basis) have created Canada’s largest urban farm with all of the produce harvested going to Calgary’s Compassionate Food Access Agencies (16 different agencies).  The farm grows everything from carrots to cabbage, zucchini to turnips. Grow Calgary is currently waiting to hear from the Province if they can expand the farm by utilizing the transportation utility corridor along the Trans Canada Highway.  To me, this is a no brainer, but their 2014 application still awaits a response!

Last Word

Today, urban farming produces about 15% of the world’s food supply according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This is forecasted to increase as the world’s population continues to become more and more concentrated in cities.  Whether it is tiny backyard plots, community gardens, guerrilla gardening on vacant lots, indoor hanging gardens, rooftop growing or vertical gardens - urban farming is here to stay.

Could community gardens and urban farming be the new yoga?

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