Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Community Gardening in Major Canadian Cities:

Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver Compared

By Sean Cosgrove
Toronto Food Policy Council
277 Victoria St. #203
Toronto, ON, M5B 1W1, Canada
(416) 392-1107, (416) 392-1357

Paper prepared for Urban Agriculture Policy In Southern Africa
International Conference: Pretoria, South Africa, March 3-5, 1998
Technikon Pretoria

"Informal Impressions" of the Productive Open Space Management Conference

1.0 Introduction

Food production in cities is not necessarily the first thought of Canadians who are considering urban function. However, it is a historical reality, a popular pastime and an activity with many benefits. In a bid for greater recognition, we urban food production activists present society with many different terms, definitions and models of this aspect of urban living. Lately the term "urban agriculture" has come into vogue. We even use the short form "UA", as an umbrella for many different models of food production activities, ranging from household gardens to commercial fish ponds. But what exactly do we mean by the term urban agriculture?

A recent definition of urban agriculture from Jac Smit and his co-authors in Urban Agriculture: Food Jobs and Sustainable Cities, is of " an industry that produces, processes, and market food and fuel ...within a town, city or metropolis on land and water dispersed throughout the urban and peri-urban area"1. There are other terms for the production of food and fibre in and near cities. City farming is one of them, as is metropolitan agriculture. David Katz claims that "the forms and locations of metropolitan agriculture are as broad and diverse as the cross-section of areas included, ranging from densely urban at the centre to the almost rural farms at the suburban fringe"2. Both Smit and Katz have given us very wide definitions. We perhaps intuitively know what they are speaking of , but it does not make it easy to identify boundaries on either place or scale of activity.

Urban planner Irene Tinker believes that we can define agriculture, but that the definition of urban and peri-urban areas in regards to food production is difficult. She suggests that "the next logical phase for urban studies of food production requires standardization of definitions and design so that quantitative data can be collected and compared"3. Defining boundaries in Canadian city farming was also challenging to geographer Robert Dorney. Speaking of southern Ontario, he said "Bounding a system is very important. The first is obviously the built city, or the downtown. We then have a urban fringe of mixed land uses which we define as being within the legal city limit. The urban shadow is quite a different reality. It is outside the urban space controlled by the Regional Official Plans. There is a different political process there"4. The so-called urban shadow is mainly rural land that is owned by land developers who are speculating that the land will be developed for a more intensive use. The effect of their interest means that land can be kept frozen from any type of investment including agricultural upgrading.

The problem of how to define what is urban, suburban, peri-urban and rural is a perennial regional planning challenge. This is reflected in the Canadian context by a recent response of a senior Statistics Canada researcher to a Japanese urban agriculture investigator. Ray Bollman writes that in Canada,

"Each city has a different way of assigning a municipal boundary and thus some "cities" have just the core and there are sub-urban cities around the core. Other "cities" have considerable countryside within their boundaries. This causes a problem for tabulating data from our Census of Agriculture and it makes it difficult to decide what exactly constitutes a "city" to make some meaningful data. We have a designation of "census metropolitan area" which includes all municipalities around cities where 50% or more of their workforce commute into the city. For big cities, this often stretches 30 to 60 kilometres from the edge of the built-up city and this typically includes a lot of farmland that is not "city agriculture", in my view. Thus, I appear to be stuck with the situation that I cannot find a reasonable boundary for a city to tabulate the extent of 'city agriculture'"5.

If Tinker, Dorney and Bollman are in agreement about the difficulty in defining boundaries of urban and regional areas, I believe that it is not going to be easy to hone our definitions of where UA takes place. Our query is getting more difficult if we concentrate solely on geographic lines.

1.1 Socio-economic Structures of Urban Agriculture: Commercial, Household and Community

Perhaps the socio-economic scale of food production enterprise is an aspect of the activity that can aid us in our analysis of UA in the Canadian context. I identify household, community, and commercial socio-economic categories for our consideration.

What is most important to me about the discussion around definitions of UA is that urban food production is perhaps finally being recognized as an important activity with long term sustainability potential and not as a contradiction in terms. I believe that we can proceed to discuss the phenomenon, being mindful of the difficulties of accurate definitions and boundaries.

1.1.1 Commercial Peri-urban agriculture

Smit's definition of UA concentrates on it's aspect as an industry. No doubt in many parts of the world it is, however a commercial definition would primarily confine UA to the peri-urban areas of Canadian cities. Following is brief discussion of some of the many issues facing Canadian peri-urban agriculture.

The structure of the dominant food system in Canada, the most oligopolized food system of any country in the western world, is that a small number of powerful players control many sectors of the food economy6. The situation has been referred to as "the Agro-Industrial Complex"7. The priorities of these players is not necessarily the success of the peri-urban producers. Farmers in the City's Countryside, to use a term of Christopher Bryant and Thomas Johnson, confront many hurdles to success, beginning with the economic reality of "the artificially low prices of food products because of the cheap food policies pursued by government in many Western countries to benefit the urban consumer through such mechanisms as subsidies and deficiency payments"8.

Canadian agricultural policy affects the near urban regions, its macro-scale processes greatly influencing inter-regional and international competition9. In addition to federal policy, peri-urban farmers also face much neglect and misunderstanding of their production and marketing challenges by local, regional and provincial governments and rural non-farm neighbours.

Uncontrolled subdivision and severances scatters industrial, commercial, unserviced fringe, and 'rural estate' development into productive prime agricultural land . This results in fragmentation of agricultural land base and rise of land use conflicts, increasing farmers costs. Of course, "Once farmland is converted to other uses it is unrealistic to assume that it can be reclaimed10".

Referring back to Dorney's point about the urban shadow effect, speculators around Toronto own large tracts of prime agricultural land. Much of this is rented to farmers, but rental farmers do not necessarily make the investments needed for long-term success in those greenhouse, dairy and specialty fruit farms that take the greatest advantage of proximity to the city. There is concern that these lands could be "mined" by corn and soy beans, heavy nutrient absorbing crops.

Despite all these challenges, peri-urban agriculture does exist and plays a role in Canadian agriculture. The authors Bryant and Johnston warn us not to fall into the myth of considering that peri-urban agriculture is always on a downhill path, that it is homogenous and that most of its problems come from the urban equation. They list their key characteristics11 of near-urban agriculture:

  1. A greater diversity and variety of farm types and on farm operations.
  2. A greater variety of socio-economic structures of production (capitalist, pastime, alternative)
  3. Greater range of capital structures on farms.
  4. Greater range of types of farm operators.
  5. Greater development of direct marketing.
  6. Tendency towards polarization, bi-modal or greater spread of farms between different business size classes.
  7. Greater variety of intensities of production and types of intensity (labour-capital).

Canadian peri-urban producers evidence these characteristics and make a money, despite the many macro-scale challenges they face. For example, in the four county-regions around Toronto, total farm cash receipts in 1986 amounted to almost $400 million, 8% of the Ontario total. This total is probably slipping due to agricultural land use conversion but it remains a significant sum. In the Greater Vancouver Regional District, 70 hectares of farms in the City of Burnaby alone are responsible for 80% of spinach and Chinese vegetable and a total of 10% of all vegetables produced in the fertile Lower Fraser Valley District12.

Canadian peri-urban farmers range from so-called "hobby farmers", to significant dairy and vegetable producers, to small-scale specialized market gardeners. These farmers are adapt at exploiting niches of production and recreational opportunities that their location lends itself to. They innovate and concentrate on direct marketing. For example, they are suppliers of urban farmer's markets, offer pick-your-own farms that cater to family weekend outings, conduct farmgate kiosk sales and offer boarding for horses of urban families.

The latest direct marketing trend is towards Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) schemes, whereby customers put up a springtime monetary 'share' of $200-450, in return for a weekly delivery of produce and perhaps lightly processed foods. These CSA schemes have been proliferating in USA peri-urban areas and have caught on in Canada. This is exactly the type of innovation that peri-urban farmers must undertake to counter the dominate agricultural policies of the central state which was discussed above.

The whole area of peri-urban agriculture is a study in itself. Because of the complexity of the peri-urban issue, including its commercial nature and macro-policy dimensions within the Canadian food system, I will not be discussing it further in this paper.

1.1.2 Household Scale

Food production aspects of household (backyard) urban gardening are difficult to quantify in the Canadian context for major cities "there are vegetable gardens associated with private residences but this is not picked up by our Census of Agriculture. Our Food Expenditure Survey does ask households to report the total value of food consumed that was not purchased... For cities with 1,000,000+ population, this averaged $23 per household in 1992 with 13 percent of the households reporting a value (Thus, the value per household reporting is about $177)"13. This figure is at the low end of estimates of the monetary value of typical community garden plots, one area of comparison, which generally range from $200-500 per year14.

Gardening is popular in Canada, with approximately half of the population participating in some form or another15. The difficulty is selecting out how much of this is food gardening or otherwise. Beyond the above statistical information it is difficulty to estimate household urban food production in Canada and because of this I have chosen not to concentrate on this area in this paper.

1.1.3 Community Gardening

In this paper I will primarily concentrate on urban community gardening in the central city areas of the three major Canadian cities: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver. This is not necessarily reflective of all the community gardening done in Canada, however in a highly urbanized society with 83% of the population living in cities, concentrating on the largest metropolitan areas reflects important issues.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a garden as a piece of ground used for growing flowers, fruit or vegetables and as a place of recreation. Among the Oxford Dictionary's eight definitions of community are: all the people living in a locality, a fellowship of interests, and a sharing of attributes. I believe that we can combine these definitions into one for a community garden as an open space that a group of citizens voluntarily manage, where horticultural activities are practised.

2.0 Community Gardening History in North America

In contrast to fairly steady existence in Europe, urban community gardening has seen "waves" of popularity in North America, most often corresponding to times of war and recession. The Canadian community gardening peaks and valleys are somewhat similar to that in the USA. In Table 1, I compare historical trends of community gardening in the two countries. While there is not a complete match between these periods, note that the periods of highest activity (wartime) and lowest (post-WWII) do correspond in the two countries. Both nations date the latest wave of North American community gardens activity from the energy shock of 1973 along with concerns about increased pesticide use in agriculture.

Table 1: Comparative Community Gardening Historical Periods in the USA and Canada

USA Canada
Potato Patches (1890-1930) Railway Gardens (1890-1930)
School Gardens (1900-1920) School Gardens (1900-1913)
Garden City Plots (1905- 1910) Vacant Lot Gardens (1910-1920)
Liberty Gardens (1917-1920) War Gardens (1914- 1947)
Relief Gardens (1935-1979) .
Victory Gardens (1941-1945) Counter-Culture Gardens (1965-1979)
Community Gardens (1980-) Community Open Space (1980-)


I believe that both Canada and the USA shared these environmental concerns for part of this resurgence, but that in the USA, efforts were more vigorous because of the challenges of urban disinvestment, decay, riots and poorly planned urban renewal schemes which resulted in large amount of open space in central city areas. Once communities got a toehold in these areas through greening, a community gardening movement was able to grow and mature. The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) was formed in 1979 and has been the main advocate for national involvement in community greening since then.

The same conditions did not hold in Canada. The first Canadian Community Gardening Network meeting was held in Montreal in 1996 and is very informal, communicating mainly electronically. While there has been some academic interest in surveying and inventorying the extent of community gardening in Canada, this have been quite limited. There is no doubt, however, that Quebec is by far the leader in community gardening in Canada and it may be that the rest of the country only equals the efforts of the 25 municipalities with community gardening programs in that province.

3.0 Major Canadian Cities Community Gardening programs

I have chosen the three largest of the Canadian cities, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, to compare and contrast their community gardening programs for lessons that may be applicable elsewhere. The experience of these cities with community gardening varies considerably. Metropolitan Montreal's success, especially in the City of Montreal, has been extensively nurtured by official political and administration support. The metropolitan regions of Toronto and Vancouver have not had cohesive community gardening movements and agendas, so the efforts of the community gardeners have been more piecemeal. Their movements are becoming more focussed and active in this decade, however.

We should keep in mind that Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver have vigorous inner city neighbourhoods and relatively few vacant lots in which to site neighbourhood community gardens in comparison to Eastern USA cities. However, this does not explain why Seattle, with a similar climate and lack of vacant lots to Vancouver, was able to build a strong 30 garden program with city sponsorship, while Vancouver's 26 community gardens are newer phenomena, spread out amongst many different municipalities as garden leaders struggle to obtain land and devise political supports.

3.1 Montreal

3.1.1 Urban profile

Two million people live in the 26 municipalities on the Island of Montreal, known as the Montreal Urban Community. The major urban collectivity, the City of Montreal, has one million people. The greater region has a population of 3.2 million in 117 municipalities. Regional population projections for the year 2006 is for approximately 3.6 million people living in the Greater Montreal region. This metropolis has great impact on every aspect of the province of Quebec, having almost half of the provincial population. The percentage of the metropolitan population that resides in the central city has dropped from 35.7% in 1981 to 32.5% in 1991 in a trend to suburbanisation that is standard for the Canadian cities17.

Economic growth in Montreal has been weak in the 1990's due to the loss of general manufacturing and political uncertainty. This situation could be slowly shifting, as high tech industries in transportation and software development are doing well. The city still has the highest level of urban low-income citizens in Canada, with 27.5% of the population under the poverty line. For comparison in this urban ranking, Winnipeg is at 21% and Toronto is at 19%18.

3.1.2 Community Gardening Profile

Montreal has a very extensive, well-organized municipally supported community gardening program. There are approximately 100 community gardens on the island. Fifteen of the twenty-six metropolitan Montreal municipalities have community gardens19. The City of Montreal maintains much the greatest number of these gardens some 72 garden sites, in many sizes, containing 6400 allotment plots. The largest garden site has 255 plots and the smallest 25. It is estimated that at least 10,000 people share these plots, and if the other municipalities' gardens are included, there is a total of 10,000 growing spaces shared by 13,000 active participants.

3.1.3 Services

The City of Montreal program is run by the Department of Sports, Recreation and Social Development. Community garden locations, topsoil, soil testing, manure, fencing, water, tools, outdoor furniture, toilets clubhouse\toolsheds (cabanes) garbage pick-up and on-going maintenance are provided by the City. In addition, there are three horticultural animators, paid on six-month City contracts, who are responsible for liaison with the gardeners. These resource people answer any horticultural inquiries, democratically distribute the garden plots, work with the elected executives of the gardens on group dynamics and report on any maintenance problems. Maintenance is provided by the Public Works Department, and incidental help and co-ordination comes from several other departments.

3.1.4 History

There are two major pathway's in the development of Montreal's community gardens. One was through European immigrants, who were gardening informally (guerrilla gardening) since the post-war period in various open spaces. A little bit of this informal activity still exists20. The other stream commenced in the mid-1970's when residents of a south central neighbourhood wished to garden a vacant lot after a fire. They received City support and the two processes began to meld.

The community garden program found a political champion in Pierre Borque, director of the Montreal Botanical Garden, who sheltered the fledging program under his wing. There was great expansion in the program, with 43 gardens by 1980, and 75 by 1985. This growth literally changed the landscape of the city and it became difficult for the Montreal Botanical Garden to administer the program. 1985 saw a complete review of the program by the City of Montreal.

This review was very significant and resulted in the establishment of clear policies for the establishment and operations of the gardens. For one thing it became the sole City recreation program that was exclusive to residents of the City of Montreal. This change forced many other municipalities to begin their own community garden programs to satisfy new demand. The review mandated that all gardens use organic methods. It created the role of horticultural animator to help ensure a transition to organic gardening, and originally there were eight positions. The Department of Recreation and Community Development was given over-all responsibility for the program. They co-ordinated several other Departments who work on different facets of the program.

3.1.5 Operations

The gardens are very popular and productive. Registrations cost $10.00 per year. Registration solicitations are sent out to all citizens in the monthly City water bill. Registrations are over-subscribed by 25% and there is only a 10% drop-out rate. This means that the City could site 12 new gardens on the basis of demand.

Volunteer committees are elected by the community gardeners at each site at semi-annual meetings. These committees then select executives who represent their concerns to the City. The community gardening program is especially popular with senior gardeners, age 55 and over. They are the majority in 39 gardens (and in 2/3 of the largest gardens). There is a multi-cultural presence in many gardens, and eight gardens have a majority of what are called in Quebec "allophones", citizens whose first language is neither French nor English.

Every gardener must agree to the rules of the garden program, such as the insurance stipulation. There is some flexibility in respect to how each garden is organized. Gardeners must grow, however, at least five different types of vegetables. They are now being allowed to grow flowers in the common areas along the fenced borders. Garden rules have been adapted in certain cases, and Asian and Mediterranean culture gardeners have been allowed to use longer trellises than usual for unique plants21 .

The municipality owns no garden sites. Many of the sites are on leased institutional, industrial or commercial land. Montreal relocated 12 gardens in the period 1986-89, at a capital cost of $400,000.00. They estimate costs of $20,000 in the establishment of a new garden site of 90 plots. There is official community gardens zoning for 13 garden sites22. I do not know of any other community gardens protected by zoning in North America. Twenty-two gardens are situated in City parks.

In the 1990's the program faces many challenges to the permanence of garden sites, finding land for new gardens, the expansion of existing ones and the replacement of gardens that have been lost to development. It has also suffered funding cuts and has lost more than half of its important horticultural animators. The program has conducted community composting experiments in one-third of the gardens, is donating food to foodbanks, and working on ensuring better access for disabled gardeners. The major community group supporting the program is the organic gardeners association in Montreal, Le Mouvement pour L'Agriculture Biologique. This association also sub-contracts one of the garden sites to maintain it in an assured organic manner, and to conduct organic horticulture trials and experiments.

Other program issues to be resolved is inter-departmental confusion about the availability of resources and each department's working role. The program could use a more sympathetic ear on the part of some urban planners to help allocate more lands for this successful program, not always easy when the best sites are selected and environmental and other restraints are present.

The former coordinator of the Botanical Garden, Pierre Borque, an environmental engineer, was elected Mayor of Montreal in 1994. This stunning victory by a horticulturalist with a green agenda has not meant more resources for the community garden program, as the City's lack of economic growth has translated into budget cutbacks and reorganizations across the board. None-the-less the 17th annual conference of the American Community Gardening Association, the first outside of the USA, was held in Montreal in 1996. The mayor and the City were able to showcase a proud program, undeniably popular and well-run, that is now a fixture of the culture of the City and of Metropolitan Montreal.

3.2 Toronto

3.2.1 Urban Profile

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is Metropolitan Toronto and the four surrounding regional districts. In the last 50 years the population of the area has increased from 1 to 4 million people. Population projections are for 6 million in the year 202023. Four regional districts surround the core metropolitan area. These districts are growing faster than the former core, which is now amalgamated into one municipality of 2.4 million people24.

Toronto has faced serious economic challenges in the 1990's after experiencing strong growth in the 1980's. The region has lost approximately 150-200,000 jobs in manufacturing, construction and service sectors since the introduction of North American trade deals and the 1991 recession. Toronto still has a strong base in business and financial services, government, retail, education, culture, tourism and manufacturing, but has lost its traditional economic hinterland (the rest of Canada) and is trying to re-position itself as a global business services centre25.

The GTA has experienced extensive sprawl along the lines of most North American cities and this is continuing. A recent study on planning growth options found that if the low density development that is currently undertaken in the GTA continues, it will consume $90 billion of capital over the coming 25 years. A more compact urban form could save $35 billion dollars26. This wisdom could be ignored by the current neo-conservative provincial government. If subsidies to sprawl were to be reduced, however, this would have an impact in support of agricultural land preservation.

3.2.2 Community Gardening Profile

Even though Toronto had "Victory" gardens in both wars, Toronto has not been a hotbed of community gardening and it has been difficult to get the issue on the political agenda. Toronto barely caught the last wave of enthusiasm for community gardening in North America in the early 1970's and still lacks a cohesive, comprehensive community gardening consciousness. This, however, shows strong signs of evolving on the cusp of the 21st Century.

3.2.3 Community Gardens Inventory

In 1997, the latest inventory has identified 69 community gardening projects inside the borders of the newly amalgamated City of Toronto (which consists of the former Metropolitan area and six former municipalities). There are approximately 3600 allotments or grow spaces in the gardens of this expanded City, signifying that almost 5000 people cooperate in community gardening.

Toronto community gardens can be grouped into three main streams. Fourteen community gardens are regional allotments, twenty are in or near social housing areas, and the rest are all sorts of community based projects, including school, rooftop, demonstration, therapeutic and neighbourhood gardens.

3.2.4 Regional Allotments

These are municipally administered and most generally sited in regional open space. Cities provide water, fencing and occasionally leaf mold as soil conditioner. Often access is mainly by automobile. A typical plotholder needs to transport all their tools to the garden each visit, as there are few toolsheds. A sense of community does certainly develop here but it has not necessarily moved out to lead or join with the community greening movement in Toronto.

In 1997, Toronto has 14 regional allotment sites in six municipalities with 2079 available allotment plots. The three former outer-suburban municipalities have the most allotments sites (9) and plots (72% of the total) and the three inner-core municipalities have the least sites (5) and plots (28% of the total). There is only one community garden that has organized as a club to elect an executive to negotiate with a municipality, the Leslie Street Allotment Garden in the central area. Interestingly several self-identified groupings have taken up a series of plots in municipal allotment gardens, such as the Organic Community Garden group in the City of York allotment garden and the Red Cross initiative in one of North York's gardens.

3.2.5 Social Housing Community Gardens

There approximately 20 community gardening projects in public and social housing areas, mainly on lands controlled by the Metro Toronto Housing Authority. Many of these housing complexes are designed along the lines of the modernist "tower in a park" designs inspired by Le Corbusier, so they actually have quite a bit of land in comparison to Toronto's single-family housing neighbourhoods and private apartment buildings.

In the mid-1980's FoodShare Metro Toronto, an agency concentrating on community development alternatives to foodbanks, helped initiate several community gardening projects in social housing areas and still advises them. Increasingly they also are partnered with Community Health Centres (CHC's), an Ontario alternative to hospital healthcare. Community gardening fits in extemely well with the CHC's community-based nutrition and self-help outreach activities, part of their health philosophies. Eight Toronto CHC's help sponsor a dozen garden projects. This trend is evident in other parts of Ontario.

The social housing community gardens can vary widely in their success rates. Some of the best community gardens in the City are located here. The populations of these lower-income areas are under the greatest amount of socio-economic stress, and this can be reflected in which gardens are functioning well from one year to the next. In 1986, the Regent Park area of downtown Toronto was the first social housing complex to attempt community gardening. Since then the area has experienced significant accomplishments, including a vigorous rooftop garden in one building, and has had several down periods. With the help of the local CHC, 1997 has seen the creation of several new community gardens in Regent Park and the stabilization of several more. There has also been important new outreach by FoodShare to start new community gardens in other downtown social housing complexes, mainly with Chinese-Canadian populations to begin with, and these have gone well.

3.2.6 Other Types of Community Gardens

The basic style of community garden in the USA is the neighbourhood, walk-to, vacant-lot garden. Some USA cities have vast amounts of unused lands. Community leaders in the 1970's used gardening to reclaim these lands. This situation did not hold in Toronto, where community associations were busy putting their energies into preventing "urban renewal", often the cause of so much vacant land in the USA. Their success kept downtown neighbourhoods of single family dwelling on 150 sq. m lots intact. This has meant that the remaining community gardening projects took on varied characteristics and have been often tucked away in left over space. In the 1990's Toronto has school, rooftop, demonstration, therapeutic and terrace gardens. There are also a number of neighbourhood community gardens and this category is increasing.

The Rooftop Gardens Resource Group, consisting mostly of design professionals, has assisted in the design and creation of three new community rooftop gardens in social housing complexes and two gardens in schools. A School Gardens and Composting Committee has noted a serious demand for more school gardens and there are at least 21 central city schools gardens, with the trend incorporating the suburbs as well. Therapeutic gardens at 2 children's hospital welcome community participation in their entire cultural programming. In addition, Toronto has 25 housing complexes that have installed triple-bin compost systems. The Bain Co-op is an excellent example of housing co-operatives that want the compost for their landscapes, managing gardens in all their common areas.

3.2.7 History

Toronto has shown leadership in urban affairs through such ideas as the 'Healthy Cities' concept which posits that "it is no longer possible into compartmentalize neatly the city's problems into parks, police, engineering, public health, urban planning, and other relatively narrowly defined specialities27". It is an interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral policy framework. In 1990, the Healthy City Office (HCO) and the Toronto Food Policy Council (FPC) were formed under this aegis by Toronto City Council. The FPC was specifically instructed to investigate the potential of urban food production. They do not suggest gardens will end hunger, rather seeing them as a community development tool leading to urban awareness of the food system.

Also in 1990, a ginger group called the Community Gardens Action Group (CGAG), under the leadership of Professor Gerda Wekerle, began meeting to get Toronto community gardens on the ground and on the political agenda. That same year 8 Toronto community gardens obtained one-shot start-up grants from the provincial Ministry of Health. In 1991, the FPC proposed a strategy of community gardening promotion by partnering with the Healthy City Office to build an interdepartmental City of Toronto working group on community gardening. The FPC-HCO partnership also worked with CGAG to help an external community gardening coalition evolve. This grouping was later called Grow T.O.gether Community Gardeners (GROW T.O).

Working in an environment of Toronto's severest recession since the 1930's resulted in a rough infancy for GROW T.O. with very little government or private grants. It also meant that early plans to propose new program monies from the City were shelved by the interdepartmental group in an atmosphere of cutbacks and downsizing. Nevertheless, the interdepartmental group produced a report with 18 recommendations, the Garden City Report, that was passed by City Council in December, 1993. The idea of the Garden City report was to align the existing specialized departmental budgets to help local groups establish community gardens. For example, City Property could identify land ownership, Public Health could consult on soil-testing, and Public Works advise on water connection. Parks and Recreation was to facilitate.

This was still a difficult maze for communities to negotiate, however, and things were not helped by the folding of GROW T.O. in 1995. GROW T.O. was modelled on the USA community gardening umbrella support groups such as Boston Urban Gardeners or New York's Green Guerillas. They had several accomplishments, including producing a newsletter and the first inventory of community gardens in Toronto. They undertook garden tours, political advocacy and maintained a demonstration garden site. Their disappearance left a leadership gap at a time when analysis and programs were converging in synergistic ways to support community greening. For example, the report of the Ministry of Health Cancer Prevention Task Force recognized the health benefits community gardening and the provincially supported Green Community Initiatives had many gardens in the 22 city network. The fact that the provincial government changed from social democratic to radical right meant funding was cut-off to these groups also and that good trends were not able to coalesce in support of community gardens.

FoodShare did reorganize their supports to community gardening but that was only one full-time staff member assigned to a coordination role. It was not until 1996 that the Garden City initiative helped to get gardens built. The Department of Parks and Recreation was able to partner with sophisticated community partners (FoodShare & the Green Community Initiative) to install several new gardens and to purchase land for a showcase downtown community garden in a new park. The political leadership of local City Councillors was crucial to these events.

Perhaps the Councillors were responding to the same spontaneous grass roots demand for community gardens that the Department of Parks and Recreation was charting through demands of citizens to plant and maintain ornamental flower beds in parks in 1995 and 1996. Parks and Recreation has facilitated these demands in at least 10 cases. Some of these efforts evolved into food gardens. In 1997, these successes led the Toronto Parks and Recreation Department to form a partnership with FoodShare to host a 12 person youth community gardening work crew, funded by the federal government. This crew helped start-up 8 new community gardens and worked with 17 other gardens. The Parks and Recreation Department has been fielding requests from many areas for increased community gardening projects and all parties are interested in continuing this model of development.

Also in 1997, FoodShare began sponsoring an informal advocacy group, The Friends of Community Gardening, that is investigating land permanence issues and political profile for community gardening Toronto. The Friends of Community Gardening is planning to organize a community gardening conference in Toronto in 1998 as networking event to help focus energies on the political agenda. Basic issues for consideration include demand for community gardens. Citizens do not hear much promotion about community gardening. Despite studies finding a demand for more allotment spaces28, municipalities don't pursue a marketing approach for allotment gardens. Every year the registration list is quickly filled, a small waiting list is maintained, hundreds are turned away, and the entire data is dropped and redone every year. This could be an issue for advocacy in the new City.

As we approach the amalgamation of 7 cities into a new City of Toronto, the danger on the horizon is that the momentum that community gardening has finally achieved in the central city of Toronto will be lost in the chaos of amalgamation and the imposition of conservative suburban thinking on such innovations as the Healthy City principles and operation.

3.3 Vancouver

3.3.1 Urban Profile:

Vancouver was founded in 1885 as the Pacific terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Presently, Greater Vancouver has 1.75 million people and an additional million are expected by 2015. The region has been growing rapidly in the 1990's, with immigration from Asia and migration from the rest of Canada.

Vancouver's main economic base is still in the primary sector as a port, entrepot and service centre for the many resource industries in British Columbia. In the secondary sector, tourism and construction have been very active in the 1990's. Yet it is the tertiary sector of design, software development, culture, environmental services and industries, and television and film that is a diverse mosaic of small firms where future growth can come from.

Regional planning was eliminated in British Columbia in 1983. The Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) has only been able to suggest strategic planning on a voluntary basis. In many ways it is the power and predominance of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in British Columbia that limits suburban sprawl to some extent. This provincial statute is a de-facto land-use regional planning measure.

3.3.2 Community Gardens

There are 26 community gardens in 11 municipalities in the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD). The City of Vancouver has the most, a dozen community gardens, 9 of these in parks or park reserves with 580 community garden plots. The City of Burnaby has the next highest number of gardens, 3, but the number of available allotments is equal to the City of Vancouver. The rest of the gardens are spread amongst 9 other municipalities. Greater Vancouver has a total of about allotment 2000 plots. Most community gardens have a waiting list, despite not advertising29.

While there certainly are long time Vancouver community gardens, such as the regional allotments at the Burnaby allotment garden (BRAGA), there are also many newer efforts as it seems that a community gardening consciousness has arisen during Vancouver's sustained economic boom in the 1990's. The need to think seriously about land-use decisions in the face of growth and construction has helped the kernel of supports for community gardening to germinate. This sentiment is captured by a suburban City Councillor, Mike Thompson, in a report on community gardening to the Council of Port Coquitlam. He writes,

"the cost of land for the average homeowner is such that living in multi-family complexes is an economic necessity for many. The "good old days" of large lots in which you could grow a few fruit trees and enough vegetables to feed your family for many months of the year is now becoming the unusual rather than the usual. If we are to accept higher densities, we believe that there is a genuine need to provide room for gardens30".

3.3.3 History

Vancouver community gardeners have not been afraid of large scale community gardens or local politics. Starting in 1985, a renaissance effort for community gardens was undertaken in the Strathcona neighbourhood of downtown East Vancouver. With support from the comunity garden advocates at the City Farmer organization, the local community association began an epic recovery of a 3.5 acre inner-city site that had been abandoned landfill for many years. The largely low-income community battled debris, hardpan, political indifference, wild blackberries, illegal enterprise and lack of tools to clear an acre for 140 plots and an urban orchard of 45 fruit trees.

Just as this success came with two years of hard work, The City of Vancouver notified them that they were on their land and not on Parks Board land as their permits read. A political struggle ensued with the City of Vancouver winning and a Chinese-Canadian seniors housing complex built on the orchard31. Galvanized by this struggle, the Strathcona gardeners rallied and received approval from the Parks Board for an official 3.5 acres on the remainder of the site. Hard work continued and an urban oasis now exists that includes trellised fruit trees and berry bushes, honeybees, greenhouses and natural ponds along with individual garden beds. One-hundred and ten species of birds have been identified here32.

The success of the Strathcona Community Garden inspired the Environmental Youth Alliance in the early 1990's to begin their own garden nearby on Parks Board land. This first installation then led to the establishment of a 3.5 acre Cottonwood Community Garden, which is presently contiguous with and allied to the Strathcona Community Garden, making for 7 acres of community maintained natural and horticultural landscape.

In the 1990's these efforts, along with those of smaller community gardens organized by neighbourhood community activists such as in Kitsalano and Mount Pleasant neighbourhoods combined to push the community garden consciousness onto the political agenda. Further advocacy from the veteran City Farmer organization (Canada's unofficial Office of Urban Agriculture) and the newer Farm Folk\City Folk urban-rural solidarity movement helped to raise the profile of Vancouver community gardening. Community activists helped push the Vancouver Parks Board, an elected body, to adopt the first official community gardening policy document in the region in 1996.

The policy states that the Parks Board will provide information and help in identifying a site to a community group wanting a garden but it is up to the group to show neighbourhood support for the project. The Board also provides site start-up assistance, and will lease land to non-profit societies in five year increments. Produce must be for gardener's personal use and not for sale. If the gardens are on City land, the Department of Parks and Recreation will prepare and fertilise soil and assist in negotiating a land-use agreement with other land owners. Site plans must be approved by the general manager of the Vancouver Parks Board. The policy document also recommends that the City of Vancouver enact a community gardening policy and protocol for land owned by the City that is not in a parkland category. Since the establishment of this policy, two additional community gardens have been established and another has been expanded33.

3.3.4 Present Trends in GVRD Community Gardening

As a community gardening movement grows in Greater Vancouver, municipal planners are having to take notice and respond to more community based gardening initiatives and proposals. Another large-sized effort is a proposed 7 acre allotment garden in the new 600 acre Colony Farm Regional Park, a former penal institution. The Farm Folk\City Folk organization, which seeks urban-rural co-operation and solidarity, helped set-up the Colony Farm Regional Park Community Gardens Society which is aiming at 420 allotments making it the largest allotment in the region34. The Burnaby allotment garden (BRAGA) is presently the largest community garden in the region, and may have a new neighbour to take up the slack of its waiting list. This garden is situated in an area of intensive commercial urban agriculture, part of the Agricultural Land Reserve. In a bid to rationalize land between agriculture and local industry, a private concern proposes a buffer zone of community gardening. The municipality of Burnaby (whose Official Plan gives specific recognition to community gardening as a land use) has approved this in principle.

Now that Vancouver municipal urban planners are becoming more aware of community gardens and taking them more seriously as social and recreational land use, a trend to large regional allotments gardens may let them feel that this is the only model of a community garden, leading them to downplay the neighbourhood gardens. For example, the City of Coquitlam does not have any community gardens but feels that the Colony Farm site will meet their future needs. There is a danger in relying on what planner Diana Hall calls "Commuter gardens" in the regional allotments. She fears that the social benefits of local gardens will be lost. Finally, the policy document recommends that the City of Vancouver enact a community gardening policy and protocol for land owned by the city that is not in a parkland category. Citizens without cars will not be able to access the larger regional gardens. This effectively discriminates against people who may need the gardens the most35.

A counter-trend to this can be identified by planners re-considering the success of local community gardens in several suburban municipalities. A community garden of 70 plots near a new residential area of New Westminster is proposed by the land developer who has sought community allies for the project. In addition, the rapidly growing City of Surrey may be willing to consider these as an element of their neighbourhood concept plans with the City's Official Community Plan 36. Finally, the Vancouver Parks Board policy document provides a blueprint for all municipalities to appreciate the neighbourhood style community garden.

4.0 Conclusion: Future trends for Community Gardening in Canada

Canadian Community Gardening has a 100 year-long history and now prepares to enter the 21st century. The activity seems to re-invent itself, as need be to quietly continue, rarely breaking the consciousness of Canadian urban political agenda. In contrast to the USA, there are no strong umbrella community gardeners organizations in the three major Canadian cities. The political cultures of the two countries is different, of course. Also not every USA city has the quality of umbrella non-profits like Philadelphia Green with a budget of $3 million and 30 employees, the 30 year-old Green Guerillas organization in New York City, or the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, who are able to get a community gardening budget items on the municipal ballot. Many cities, however, aspire to this level of excellence and its seems that USA urban political culture necessitates an independent organization that can focus exclusively on community gardening. They are the political face to the issue that government and citizen can turn to for information and solidarity.

In Canada, the political culture is generally to assume that state will direct policy and supports for the common good. In the splendid situation of Montreal, we see the most centralized and the most resourced community gardening program in North America. It is regarded there as a City recreational program the same as the provision of sports fields. City councillors hear about and protect the popular gardens.

Toronto and Vancouver have not been on the map of community gardening strongholds on this continent, but that is changing rapidly. Toronto attempted to forge a community gardening organization along USA lines but it did not coalesce, falling back to a network status. Important nodes on this network, the Toronto Food Policy Council, the Healthy City Office and the non-governmental FoodShare organization remain committed to the issue. Individual gardens such as the Alex Wilson Community Project are gaining political profile and importance.

Toronto has struggled to host even a one day political conference on community gardening (as opposed to hands-on or how-to workshops) and it remains to be seen if the Friends of Community Gardens will evolve into a true umbrella community gardening organization or remain an informal network with specialized expertise. The uncertainty in Toronto with its mega-amalgamation offers the proverbial dangers and opportunities. With leadership, community gardeners could unite around the continuation and expansion of the municipal allotment program and use this as a strong wing of a community gardening program that encompasses a wide variety of forms of gardens including neighbourhood and school models.

Vancouver has strong individual community gardens, however, political organizing there seems to have focussed on wider food security issues. Organizations are the emerging in this area such as the Vancouver Food Policy Organization and FarmFolk\CityFolk. These and other organizations have carried the water can for the community gardens on the policy level, municipally and regionally. The concept of a community garden umbrella organization seems to be subsumed to garden building, as even the venerable City Farmer is a small information and communications organization even if it has a strong presence on the Internet.

It is interesting that a new movement in the USA, the Community Food Security Association, encompassing a multitude of food policy issues and organizations, from food retail access to urban-rural regional food economic development strategies, was founded in October, 1997. The organizations in this effort used the American Community Gardening Association as a springboard to organize. This speaks to the political profile and savvy of USA community gardeners, who are now linked to this wider organization as key allies. Political lobbying has resulted in federal budget grants to community food security initiatives, several of them community gardens, which replace some of the $3.5 million community gardening funds lost and reshuffled after the 1994 Republican conquest of the US Congress.

In contrast, the Canadian Community Gardening Network is a fledgling concept with absolutely no federal or any other monies, and sporadic electronic communications. Only informal contact between officials and activists in the three major cities exists at present. Provincial networking in Ontario and Quebec is picking up some steam, however. We have also used the American Community Gardening Association as a node of support, after all the ACGA purports to unite community gardeners from North and South America.

If community gardening in Toronto and Vancouver was able to be strengthened by its association with food policy and food security agendas and organizations, they could perhaps leap-over previous constraints and find strategic success without needing any umbrella group exclusively dedicated to community gardening. This is a high-risk strategy, however, because the gardens could get lost in the over-all agenda setting. I believe that it comes down to the fact that if community gardeners want to follow their pastime, if they are passionate about it, they must develop a political posture and the organizational ability to support it.

It must be said that to sustain the integrity of the Montreal community gardening program, city officials and activists have broken their previous insularity and actively sought new ideas and improvements from across North America. They are prepared to support pan-Canadian and international networking efforts. However, the constraints of their budgets may conspire to limit this to token efforts unless a new generation of community gardeners take it upon themselves to redesign and democratize further the "Montreal Model" of community gardening success. They must allow for much more gardener input into the political agenda. Passivity could see the erosion of supports to their program. Montreal may re-assess the need for a citizen controlled community gardening umbrella organization if municipal supports falter.

Twenty-first century community gardening seems assured in Montreal. If the other two major cities can learn from their success, and if in turn Montreal is open to mutual learning from the efforts of these cities, then perhaps a national agenda for Canadian community gardening can be forged and implemented for the good of all.


1. Smit, J. et al., Urban Agriculture: Food Jobs and Sustainable Cities, United Nations Development Program, New York, 1996.

2. Katz, D. "Metropolitan Food Systems and the Sustainable City", in Sustainable Communities, Van der Ryn, S. & Calthorpe, P., eds, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1986.

3. Tinker, Irene, Urban Agriculture is Already Feeding Cities, in Cities Feeding People, Egziabher,A.G. et al, IDRC, Ottawa, 1994.

4. Dorney, R. "Urban Agriculture and Urban Land Use" in Green Cities, Gordon. D., Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1990.

5. Bollman, Ray Agriculture Division, Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Personal communications to Professor Dr. Yoichi Matsuki, Department of Nature Management and AgriFood Economics Nippon Veterinary and Animal Science University, October 9, 1997.

6. Cf. Coffin, H.G. "Concentration in the food system and implications for farmers in PEI in : Competing in the Marketplace: more than just luck". PEI Dept. of Agriculture. Charlottetown, 1987. Warnock, J., Profit Hungry: The Food Industry in Canada, New Star Books, Vancouver , 1978.

7. Warnock, J., ibid; Winson, A. The Intimate Commodity, Garamond Press, Guelph, 1992.

8. Bryant, C.R.& Johnston, T.R.R., Agriculture in the City's Countryside, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1992.

9. Ibid.

10. Office of the Greater Toronto Area, A Vision for the Countryside, Report of the Provincial-Municipal Countryside Working Group, 1995.

11. Bryant, C.R.& Johnston, T.R.R., op. Cit.

12. City of Burnaby, Official Community Plan for Burnaby, Burnaby, B.C., 1987

13. Bollman, R. op. cit.

14. Hough, M.,Cities and Natural Process, Routledge, London & New York, 1995. Also Blair, D., et al, A Dietary, Social and Economic Evaluation of the Philadelphia Urban Gardening Project, Journal of Nutrition Education, Vol. 23, No.4, 1991.

15. Frank, C., "Mystery took a bit of digging", Calgary Herald, June 12, 1989.

16. Canada - Quayle, M. & Songhai, S., Report on Community Gardening in Canada, University of British Columbia, 1986,- typologies based on E. Von Baeyer, Rhetoric and Roses; History of Canadian Gardening, Fitzhenry& Whiteside, Markham, 1984. USA - adapted from Basset, T.J., Reaping on the margins: A Century of Community Gardening in America. Landscape, 25- 2, 1981.

17. Constanta, S. "Economic Boom creating two Montreals" Toronto Star, Oct. 20, 1997.

18. Pedneault, A.& Grenier, R. Creer un jardin communautaire: L'Amemnager, le greer, l'animer. Montreal MAB-Metro, 1996.

19. Ibid.

20. Cook. C.D., "Montreal's other Great Pastime" in Community Greening Review, American Community Gardening Association Vol. 6, 1996, Philadelphia.

21. Ibid.

22. The GTA has 42% of Ontario population and a total area of 7060 km2. Of this: 1500 km2 (21.25%) is presently classified as urban land use and 5560 km2 (78.75%) is classified as rural land use. The breakdown of the rural 5560 km2 is A. 1100 km2 (20%) in forest cover. B. 400 km2. (7.5%) is considered to be in the existing urban envelope. The total urban envelope area is 1900 km2 (this 400km2 plus the 1500 km2 urban area). The rest, 4000 km2 (73.5%) is a mixture of farmland, rural residential, and resource extraction, it should be noted that in the four regions, 67% of total land area is class I, II, and III agricultural land.

23. Golden, A. Report of the Greater Toronto Area Task Force, Publications Ontario,Toronto 1996.

24.Bromley, I. Five Reasons why the Last Recession was so Deep, so long, So Toronto, The Economic Forum on the Future of the Greater Toronto Area, 1994.

25. Blais, P. The Economics of Urban Form, prepared for the Greater Toronto Area Task Force (Golden Commission), used a recent update of the Greater Toronto Area Urban Structures Concept Study by the IBI Group help determine costs, 1996.

26. Hancock,T. in Ashton, J. ed. Healthy Cities, Open University Press, London 1992.

27. Johnson, L., & Muirhead, B., Metro Toronto Community Garden Report, Toronto Healthy City Office, 1995. Also Boettcher, D., et al., An Examination of the Accessibility of Community Gardening in the City of Toronto, Innis College, University of Toronto, 1995.

28. Barrs, R., An Analytical and Strategy Framework for Planners and Decision-Makers, School of Community & Regional Planning, University of British Columbia, 1997.

29. Connolly, N., Report on Community and Allotment Gardening in the Greater Vancouver Region, City Farmer Web Site (, Vancouver, 1997.

"An Eden in the Eastside", The Geogia Straight, Vancouver, May 13-20, 1994.

31. Ibid.

32.Barrs, R.op.cit.

33.Connolly, N., op.cit.

34. Hall, D., Community Gardens as an Urban Planning Issue, unpublished thesis, University of British Columbia, 1996.

35. Connolly, N., op.cit.

Informal Impressions of the Productive Open Space Management Conference, Technikon Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa, March 3-5 1998, by Sean Cosgrove

I gave a paper on Canadian community gardening in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver at this conference. I took the liberty of extending greetings from the ACGA (American Community Gardening Association) to the 200 delegates from across South Africa. Most of the delegates were from government agencies but many community groups were represented. The Rainbow Nation has lots of energy and great goodwill as they attempt to redesign that beautiful country. And they have plenty of problems. A pent-up demand for housing in urban areas is exploding in the post-apartheid era. Migrants from the countryside and other countries are settling in shantytowns (often in what was apartheid 'greenbelts' - forced separation of city and townships) and scraping by with no or a minimum of services. Planners are up in arms about reserving land for a school or hospital, let alone a community garden, and losing it the next week to squatter settlements.

South Africa has 45 million people. 55.5% of the population is now urban. Johannesburg and Capetown are very large cities of 6 million and 4 million followed by Durban and Port Elizabeth at 2 and 1 million. Technically, it is in the small towns that the poverty rate is the highest (35.1%) compared to secondary cities (26.7%) and metropolitan areas (15.4%), but I personally have never seen urban poverty like I did in Johannesburg.

At this conference the discussion was very eclectic and varied. There was discussion of urban agriculture (UA) and what key policy inputs were needed for its success, especially its potential commercial economic contribution. There was no general agreement at the conference that urban agriculture relived poverty, but there was wide-open interest in the possibility that it did. Scholars from other African nations, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania presented research from their cities, but I take it that economic conditions are very different there, much poorer.

Many UA models were being considered and in the end the conference mainly found much work and research needed to be done to present policy recommendations to local and senior governments. Community gardens did come up at the conference, formally in the case of Capetown, (a Cape Flats program, sponsored by the Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden's outreach greening program), and informally in delegates sharing their experiences in community development projects.

There was also interest in the environmental benefits of urban agriculture. It was thought that the community development and social empowerment aspects of working together in urban agriculture, some times in community gardens, was positive but needed more research and exploration. Other areas of interests were for urban forests and naturalized areas, permaculture, composting, better public health and urban animal agriculture. It seemed to me that the permaculture community had the most energy at the conference, the permaculturists are planting a lot of trees and they have good leadership. However, trees did take a back seat to food plants and animals in interest levels at the conference, despite how the event was billed, as a Productive Open Space Management Conference.

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