A new grassroots city-building movement is redefining the urban landscape in Ottawa. In neighbourhoods, residents are coming together to create stronger, more resilient communities by growing their own food in urban community gardens. There are currently over 50 community gardens registered with the Community Gardening Network (CGN) of Ottawa. One of these is Urban Shades, a new kid on the block, established this past summer.
Nestled between All Saints Church and Laurier Avenue in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood, Urban Shades consists of twenty-two raised beds producing tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, kale, chard, mustard greens, radishes, and wild strawberries, to name just some of its produce.
The visionary behind Urban Shades is Caroline, a resident of Sandy Hill. Caroline, who is passionate about sustainability and social justice, says that food, like dance and music, brings people together. Urban Shades not only feeds those who use its plots - it creates a sense of ownership and belonging in the community. This reduces feelings of isolation and gives people a reason to be outdoors, two crucial factors in improving mental health.
In addition to some forty-five volunteers who have helped plan, build and maintain Urban Shades, the garden has been supported by a strong network of municipal and community resources.
Key among these was Just Food, an Ottawa organization that works towards a vibrant, just, and sustainable food system in Ottawa and the surrounding region. Through the CGN, Just Food allocates the Community Garden Development Fund. Established in 2009 as a collaboration between Just Food and the City of Ottawa, the $76,000 fund is put towards starting new community gardens, as well as expanding and enhancing existing gardens in Ottawa.
In order to access the fund, it was necessary to demonstrate that Urban Shades had the support of the community and ward Councillor. Local Councillor Mathieu Fleury, as well as community organizations Action Sandy Hill, Enviro Centre, and the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre all sent letters of support for Urban Shades.
It is inspiring to see urban leaders and community organizations come together, with strong municipal support and funding, to re-envision the city of the twenty-first century. Every Sunday, the growing Urban Shades community still gets together for “Work Bees,” a program consisting of garden work and outdoor fun. The common description of cities as lonely places is turned on its head by the easy conviviality and shared sense of purpose at the Work Bees.
But as Ottawa grows, Urban Shades is threatened by different visions of urban development. The land that the garden sits on may soon be purchased by developers hoping to build high-rise condos. This would almost certainly spell the end of the garden in its current state.
Caroline, however, is not worried. She trusts her own negotiating skills, and will fight for the survival of Urban Shades. In the event that the development proposal does go through, Urban Shades could adapt to become a rooftop garden. Cities are in continual flux, and Caroline’s vision of urban wellness and inclusivity is capable, in its own right, of adapting to respond to these forces of change.
Does community gardening happen in your city? What municipal resources are available to support such projects?
Credits: Images by Nour Aoude. All data linked to sources.