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


Report on Community
and Allotment Gardening
in the Greater Vancouver Region

April 1997

In partial fulfillment of:
Community Economic Development 404-5
Prepared by: Norm Connolly ID 93301-9731 (Norm Connolly)

Prepared for:
Professor Mark Roseland, Simon Fraser University
and Michael Levenston, City Farmer

A survey of community and allotment gardens in the Greater Vancouver region

Discussion of survey results

In this section I summarize information gathered from 31 community and allotment gardens in the Greater Vancouver region during the past six months. In the first part, I talk about the differences between community and allotment gardens in terms of spatial characteristics. I also mention the increased demand for plots in these gardens during the past several years. I have included quotes from the founders the three community gardens who talk about the social and psychological benefits of these gardens. Finally, I have included a table that includes a profile of each community garden in the survey.

There are still more observations that can be drawn from the survey data. These observations will be included in a later release of this report.

Three types of community and allotments gardens are identified in this survey:

Local Community Garden

This form of garden is typically smaller than allotment gardens in terms of number of plots and average size of each plot. Within the Greater Vancouver region, local community gardens are located within a short distance of the majority of gardeners. This means that the garden is accessible by walking or by bicycle.

Regional Community Garden

This type of garden is spatially larger than the local version. This means that a regional community garden has a greater number of plots than a local community garden. In addition, and the average plot size tends to be larger as well. Regional community gardens are located further away from where their members live. Although they can be reached by walking or by bicycle, regional community gardens tend to be accessed more frequently via automobile than local community gardens.

Regional Allotment Garden

These gardens are also physically larger than local community gardens. Allotment gardens also have a relatively larger number of plots, and the average plot size tends to be larger as well. However, allotment gardens are distinct from community gardens because they generally do not have portions of the garden set aside for common use. They also do not set aside free plots for those who cannot afford to pay a plot fee. In addition, it is unusual for an allotment garden to reserve plots specifically for other non-profit groups or schools.

Our definition is consistent with the definition given by the Vancouver Parks & Recreation Board:

"there is a difference between and 'allotment garden' and a 'community garden'. While an allotment garden may in fact be defined as only a piece of land used by individuals to produce food and flowers for personal use of society members, a community garden goes beyond that to include common areas that are not allotted to individuals, and education programs that involve schools and youth groups in gardening activities."

(Community Gardens Policy, Vancouver Parks & Recreation Board, April 1996)

Spatial attributes of community and allotment gardens

Table 1: Number of plots
NumberType of gardenGarden size (smallest to largest)
25* Local Community Garden 18 plots -> 290 plots
2 Regional Community Garden 100 plots -> 420 plots
2 Regional Allotment Garden 110 plots -> 374 plots

Table 2: Range of plot sizes
NumberType of gardenPlot size (smallest to largest)
25 Local Community Garden 36 sq. ft. -> 310 sq. ft. average: 10' x 10'
2 Regional Community Garden 250 sq. ft. -> 900 sq. ft. range: 10' x 25' -> 30' x 30'
2 Regional Allotment Garden 1000 sq. ft. average: 20' x 50'

* Two of the gardens in our survey are only at the preliminary stage of the planning process and are not included in Table 1 or Table 2.

Increasing demand for garden space in urban areas:

Our survey revealed that of the 21 community and allotment gardens currently operating in the region, 16 (or 76% of the total sample) have been started since 1990. In addition, five community gardens are currently in development and are expected to have their first growing year in 1998. [see Table 3] The cumulative number of plots represented by all operating and developing gardens in the region is 2270 plots. In addition, five more community or allotment gardens are in the planning stage. Clearly the demand for community gardens has grown during the past five years.

Table 3: Current status of community and allotments gardens
Garden Status. .
Operational 21 68 %
Development 5 16 %
Planned 5 16 %
Total Surveyed 31 100 %

Spokespersons from several community gardens mentioned that during the past three years demand for plots has risen to the point where most community and allotment gardens in the Greater Vancouver region have no empty plots. In fact, the majority of the gardens that have been in operation for over a year are full and have a waiting list for available plots. To meet this extra demand, some garden activists have donated their time to starting new community gardens nearby. For example, Barb Atkins is helping start the Cyprus Community Garden on land across the street from Maple Community Garden. Similarly, Cottonwood Community Garden was started to accommodate the demand for additional space in the Strathcona Community Garden. Jane D'Silva is drawing from her successful experience in the City of Langley to develop a larger community garden in the Walnut Groove area. The community gardens at Elizabeth Rogers, Robson, and McSpadden Parks in Vancouver's East Side have all drawn from the successful example set by the Mount Pleasant Community Garden in designing their parks and formulating their membership policies.

Social and psychological benefits of community gardens

Beyond the economic and nutritional benefits provided by growing one's own fruit, vegetables, and herbs, community gardens provide important social and mental health benefits. Several spokespersons mentioned to me their personal motivation for advocating community gardens:

"Most of our members are interested in being a part of a community garden because it gives them a chance to interact with other people. They value the psychological benefits that comes with gardening, over and above the obvious benefit of growing organic produce."

[Quote from Barb Atkins, founder of Maple Community Gardens]

"For our members, the key benefit of our community garden is that it is not an institutional space."

[Anne Bailey commenting on the importance of passive and active gardening as part of the horticultural therapy program at the Vancouver General Hospital]

"The most exciting aspect of this project is seeing people of all ages, colour, and ethnicity come together to build their community garden."

[Christine Gooch reflecting on the work done by community members during groundbreaking for the Queen Mary Community Garden in North Vancouver]

"Community gardens are important elements in working toward sustainable communities. They alleviate some of the alienating aspects of modern lifestyles, restoring a sense of place to the urban context, and instilling an appreciation of its biophysical potential and limitations. They empower neighborhoods by enabling some self-sufficiency through local food production." [Hall, 1996:18]

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Revised April 20, 1997

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture