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Description: Foodshare youth garden is at first supported and approved, then derailed with permit rules and vandalism, in spite of City mandate for youth food gardens. See also Problems 2006 Foodshare Youth Teaching Garden
Status: Closed
Department: Gardens
Opened: March 2, 2006
Closed: March 3, 2006
Next:

Foodshare Youth Garden 2007 (continuation)

From Ravenna Barker, Foodshare community garden staff, to Jenny Cook, coordinator of garden volunteers at Dufferin Grove Park, March 2, 2007

I just wanted to give you a little update before the meeting on Monday, and to make sure that people who won't be at the meeting are in the loop. Debbie, Daniel, Karine and I met with Peter Leiss from Parks yesterday to talk about what they would like to see from FoodShare. While the conversation covered many topics like farmers markets and community gardens in general, this was the message around the garden in Dufferin Grove. Parks is in support of FoodShare having a garden in Dufferin Grove. However, we all agreed that we do not want to do something that doesn't have wide support and that is going to be more of a source of conflict in the long-term than a source of energy and life.

We are committed to having a role and presence in Dufferin Grove Park. What we would like to do is propose several (perhaps 3) potential locations in the park for large gardens for FoodShare for discussion at the public meeting. We would also like to consider alternately that our role be to help maintain and re-energize the community garden areas that were going to be seeded over this year. We were able to think about just reviving those community garden areas because we also discussed the possibility of FoodShare having gardens in other parks in the area, and it sounds like there are some exciting possibilities that would give us a bigger space and would allow us to spark a community process. This would be in addition to our role in Dufferin Grove.

We would like to discuss all of these options for our involvement in Dufferin Grove at a public meeting which will be held at Wallace-Emerson, hopefully the 3rd week of March. The meeting will be called and hosted by Parks.

What we would like to do before then is do a walk around with Peter to look at potential locations for gardens. We would then like to discuss these spots with the friends and park staff at Dufferin Grove. Whatever we all decide are good locations will be open to discussion at the public meeting. We will try to keep the public meeting on the topic of the garden only.

In addition to wanting to update you, I also wanted to make sure that there aren't any pieces of information or history around this that we're missing.

From Jutta Mason to Ravenna Barker, Foodshare community garden staff, March 3 2007

Mayssan printed out your garden update e-mail for me last night. We discussed it and now I'm taking you up on your invitation to provide some missing history and information.

Missing history: The first community garden began in Dufferin Grove Park in 1993, one year after the City took out the last Parks-planted flower bed, citing lack of funds. The park looked so sad without any flowers that the first garden was dug by some mothers and little kids near the sandpit. The backhoe operator (Paul) who was digging the sandpit helped us by bringing over some heavy 6x6 wood to frame the bed.The Parks supervisor, Carol Cormier, gave us a surprise gift of left-over bedding plants. So the garden looked very colourful when the mayor at that time, Nadine Nowlan, came to officially "open" the sand pit, which was then called "the Big Backyard."

Every few years another garden bed was added, depending on who was interested in helping. Carol Cormier, promoted to Parks manager by then, sent her crew to Home Depot to buy us a whole bunch of rose plants, which are still there and still covered with blooms every June. Some gangsters called the "L.A.s" were paid to dig the first garden up by the rink, helped by local schoolteacher Rob Rennick and me. People in the neighbourhood had said on a park survey that they wanted native-species gardens, so we got two years of grants from Canada Trust. A former Havelock Street resident, Hedy Muysson, who had bought a farm near Westport, came back to work with school classes from Brock School to plant the first two woodland beds.

Then one day Arie Kamp came upon me watering the gangster garden, and offered his help. He became the main flower guy at the park for the following 8 years. He used to get up at 4 a.m. in the summer and work until 2 pm, go home and nap in the heat of the afternoon, and then work again until it was too dark to see the plants. Arie lived on his own and spent a lot of time talking to the staff and to me. He also dug new flowerbeds without consulting anyone and then had to work even harder to maintain them to his high standard. He was pretty high-maintenance himself, but after he began gardening, more and more people started to stroll through the park in the evenings, looking at the gardens. The Parks foreman at the time, Bill Argeropoulos, scrounged old benches from park storage areas for us to set up near the gardens. Those benches were rarely empty.

Artist and landscaper Gene Threndyle discovered us a couple of years later and helped us plant a native-species sand-garden near the newly-built bake-oven. Then he planted the tree nursery south of the field house, then the "Remembering Garrison Creek" garden at the southwest corner (the one with the black walnut trees). A white pine was added to the tree nursery by Hilary Weston in 1997 when she was lieutenant-governor. Kids from Queen Victoria School helped her to plant this tree. And we cooked up an award for her to give to Arie Kamp, with Queen Vic kids playing steel drums to celebrate the day.

There were no funds within the Parks department to maintain the gardens, but eventually we got on their left-over annuals list, which they delivered every year. One year Mayor Barbara Hall came to help plant some of them in the rink house window-boxes. And Pat MacKay, a long-time park friend, brought over some best-quality spring bulbs from Cruickshank's every fall. Arie planted a lot of them. He didn't always take kindly to other volunteer gardeners, and would sometimes interfere so much that they would leave. However, Gene Threndyle was a match for Arie, so he stuck around. In 1998 Gene applied to the Toronto Arts Council for a grant to build the little fountain and wetland area down in the Garrison Creek hollow by Dufferin Street. The Parks supervisor of the time, Mike Hindle, helped out by lending a backhoe and driver, and by bringing over all those big old architectural stones that surround the fountain (which had been languishing in the High Park service yard until Gene asked about them). With the fountain, new birds and butterflies came to the park, and so did students visiting from NYC, studying community gardens.

After we began the school pizza-day programs, we started putting some food plants near the ovens. One year we had grain growing there, the next year lots of sunflowers. Then our summer youth workers got a crew together to put up a split rail fence to keep out the dogs. We planted tomatoes and herbs to put on the pizzas. The next year the Parks foreman brought his crew and built us a second food garden area.

By then we had got into the pattern of having a twice-yearly walkabout with the Park supervisor, and the main recreation staff (Lily Weston), and me, to figure out what ought to be done, and also, how to keep Arie from digging more gardens. He dug more gardens anyway, on the north side of the rink, and then got into some terrible arguments with the kids from St.Mary's High School for stepping onto his flowers when they went by there to go to the mall. This needed a lot of mediation.

Meantime Ben Figuereido, who lived in the apartment building next door, planted grapes along the rink fence and began helping out in various ways. And Caitlin Shea arrived in the park and began doing compost. Then Jenny began to work at the park, and she and Caitlin (who also became a part-time recreation staff) set up the "garden parties" where people wanting to volunteer would get support and have some fun too. They not only planted and did compost but they also took care of the trees, mulching and watering trees all over the park. I had been the night-time watering person for years, setting up and moving sprinklers, but they took some of that over.

Three years or four years ago Arie went through a crisis. But with lots of community support he got through it (by then he was known throughout the neighbourhood, as the main park gardener ). He turned 80, and rode his bike less, and cut way back on his park projects, just growing his beloved morning glories up the fence. With support from Brian Green, the Parks supervisor of that time, Recreation staff and volunteers (and I) began to grass over some of his garden beds. Brian also brought more spring bulbs. By then the trees that Gene Threndyle had planted in the various native-species gardens had grown very lush, and he only had to visit a few times a year to prune and pull invasive species.

Two years ago, Georgie Donais planted the first cob gardens. Last year park friend Mary Wigle donated two black maples in honour of her husband Ziggy. Those trees became the basis for the second cob garden, along with perennials from the home gardens of many cob-builders. Last year also, my 5-year campaign to have new trees planted finally bore fruit, after many years of no planting. 28 new trees were put in by a Forestry contractor. The new trees were watered and taken care of by Recreation staff working with volunteers, with a bit of help from me.

I've left out lots, and some of the people cc'd here will be mad about my memory lapses. But I hope this sketch shows that for those of us who work in the park, with or without pay, the gardens at Dufferin Grove are full of stories. As new people show up wanting to get involved, they hear the stories that are embodied in the various gardens, and they add their own. That's why I put history/ecology into the subject line. The park gardens are a complex little ecology all tangled up with so many people by now.

During the 14 years I've been engaged with the park, there were four different Parks supervisors, Peter Leiss being the most recent. Up until Peter's arrival, Dufferin Park gardeners (Recreation and volunteer) were always included in garden meetings. But they weren't present at your meeting this past week.

Could we begin again together, this time more slowly? Your e-mail mentions Peter's offer of "Foodshare having a garden in Dufferin Grove." You can take him up on that, but there are some things to consider:

Missing information:

1. The current lack of a collegial connection between the Parks supervisor and Recreation staff or park friends.

Peter Leiss began his term at Dufferin Grove by saying that children are not allowed to help with the cob project, and he put up a big fence to make sure. He carried on by forbidding the cooking fires that we've had for thirteen years, then putting them back as a "pilot project" under his authority, frequently speaking as though both recreation staff and park users are fools. He is apparently developing a "farmers' market/selling food on Parks property" policy without consulting with either our market manager or any of the farmers (or recreation staff, or most others involved with City markets). His unilateral actions are causing us a lot of concern.

2. The need for Recreation staff involvement in garden discussions.

A youth garden is a program involving park users. Until now, programs engaging park users have always been run with Recreation staff. When your funding is over, the gardens will need Recreation staff support. I imagine that may be what you have in mind with your initiative -- to add a new element to the park, and to build on the many relationships the Recreation staff have with park youth already. But going through Peter Leiss (Parks) does not make this link. Parks staff have no capacity to do the follow-up with youth -- the connection doesn't exist. It's hard to know how your project can flourish under those circumstances. The same goes for the gardens you're considering at Wallace or Campbell or other local parks. Recreation staff are needed to help keep such gardens going over the long term.

3. The tenuous connection between Peter Leiss and the neighbourhood.

The group of objectors with whom Peter developed a relationship as soon as he began his new role last spring, apparently use the park very little. Beyond his friendly relations with that single group, Peter has already antagonized a lot of park users with whom he never tried to make friends. Now Peter's apparent intent is to develop a market and park food protocol without studying and learning from the park's successes.

It may be that Peter's actions reflect a larger turf struggle between Parks management and Recreation management, downtown at City Hall. There seem to be distant echoes of such a struggle, but in the end we can only guess. What's clear locally, though, is that many people in this neighbourhood have a strong loyalty to Dufferin Grove Park. Their exasperation with Peter's approach can only increase.

These are tricky problems, and that's why I'm suggesting that you might want to start over. There are community groups at four parks nearby who would enjoy a conversation about community gardens. Dufferin Grove recreation staff have connections with all of them, and I think those folks would all be interested in swapping experiences and suggestions with Food Share. Parks involvement can come once a good local connection is there.


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