Creating a Community Garden Policy With & For the City of Orillia – May 14th

“Humankind has not woven the web of life.  We are but one thread within it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.”         -Chief Seattle, 1855

Mayor Steve Clarke planting some seeds to help fill out our gardens.

Mayor Steve Clarke planting some seeds to help fill out our gardens.

When we connect, we get things done. Important things, like building the policies and programs that benefit our community and its residents.

On Thursday May 14th, from 5:30-730pm the Orillia FOOD Council in partnership with the Orillia Community Gardens and the City of Orillia, are hosting a free public forum on the Creation of a Community Garden Policy for the City of Orillia. The community is invited and encouraged to attend and learn about the progress between the community and city officials towards promoting and enabling healthy food production.

Below is a request to form a “Community Garden Policy Working Group”

Dear Mayor and Council,

On behalf of Orillia Community Gardens (OCG), following community consultations and recommendations gathered at the Orillia Food Council’s Food Democracy event on February 22nd 2015, we request your support and collaboration in the creation of a “Community Garden Policy Working Group”.

Towards that end, we would like to invite you and interested staff members to two upcoming events.

1. Wednesday May 6th, 3-6pm, the 5th Anniversary of the High Street Park Community Garden, in partnership with the Orillia Youth Centre (as part of National Youth Week). Official groundbreaking ceremony at 5pm sharp. All welcome. Getting dirty is encouraged.

2. Thursday May 14th, 530-730 – A public forum co-hosted with the Orillia Food Council at the Orillia Public Library on the subject of Urban Agriculture and a Community Garden Policy for the City of Orillia. It is the intent of this meeting to bring together key stakeholders, representing the City of Orillia and the community, to stimulate public awareness and input into the formation of a Community Garden Policy Working Group.

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Growing Towards a Community Garden Policy Working Group:

The proposed working group may be composed of member(s) of council, city staff from relevant departments, members of OCG, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, Lakehead University, Georgian College, local food banks, youth/student(s), elder(s), gardeners, farmer’s and others with a passion and expertise in community gardening and a healthy food system.

The mandate of the working group would be in part, in the short term to develop a Community Garden Policy for the City of Orillia, along with priority recommendations for supporting community food production. Additionally, this working group may then expand and turn it’s attention to developing a broader Agriculture and Food Strategy, in partnership with the Orillia Food Council and neighbouring Townships within Simcoe County, that can support initiatives that create jobs, regenerative economic development, and healthy food access among other desirable outcomes.

Countless communities across Ontario, Canada and the world have created both simple and sophisticated policies and programs to support the growth of community gardens and agriculture within their jurisdictions. We propose starting small and simple, while thinking big and planning long term. Our request can be considered in four parts: in time for this spring, in time for next spring, for the next generation, and the next seven.

Orillia is well positioned locally and provincially to be a leader in this field, offering a cornucopia of benefits for our community, economy and ecology. As we assume a leadership role, the benefits will be multiplied and sooner realized, as other communities come to us for inspiration and support.

To date the City of Orillia has directly supported two distinct community gardens on city land, in High Street Park, behind Brian Orser Arena, and a Three Sisters, Butterfly and Heritage themed garden at Scout Valley in Orillia. A third site has recently been approved along with a donation of compost. In total, OCG tends to about half a dozen gardens, and there are upwards of 20 self-identified community gardens in and around Orillia, including school gardens.

However, without a clear process for establishing and supporting community gardens and agriculture initiatives, especially on public and institutional lands, progress on this front will be limited and left to the hands of dedicated, but resource strapped volunteers and community organizations.

Community gardens deal with land use, planning, economic development, parks and recreation, youth opportunities, waste, environment, water, transit, culture, heritage etc… The inter-departmental nature of community gardens, food and agriculture, has in our experience resulted in miscommunication and confusion between and within the community, the City and its various departments. This has limited progress while precious resources and opportunities for synergy are wasted. With the City’s leadership, support and a clear plan of action, we can grow so much more.

For reference, please see our website where we have listed resources on community garden policies and agriculture strategies developed by comparable cities within Ontario and beyond. See https://orilliacommunitygardens.wordpress.com/orillia-food-council/community-garden-policies/ .

We look forward to hearing from you in regards to this request, and hope you are able to join us in May to get dirty and get to work on growing Orillia’s food future!

Yours in SOILidarity,
Jacob Kearey-Moreland on behalf of Orillia Community Gardens

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About Kristen Caudle

Social Service Work, Community Gardening, Horticultural Therapy
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