A Niagara-on-the-Lake resident is asking the town to consider repurposing a town-owned lot to be used as a community garden.
Julian Trachsel hasn’t got a specific location in mind, although he has some ideas of how it could be run, he told councillors at Monday’s planning meeting.
There are generally two types of community gardens, he explained. They can be established by a group that works the entire garden together, or they can be allotment gardens where an individual rents a specific garden plot.
He is envisioning a hybrid model, where a garden group takes it on as a whole, then rents out the plots to Individuals, to minimize the work the town would need to do.
He made it clear that what he is proposing would take little involvement from the town, once a location is chosen and prepared for the first garden lots.
Currently there is a community garden behind the Anderson Lane library, benefitting Newark Neighbours, and also one at BY’s Honey Farms established this year, with 40 plots, but there are issues there with water supply, difficult access to parking when it’s wet, and ticks are a concern, he said.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is seeing “ever smaller lots in new developments,” he said, with little room for a garden, suggesting the town shouldn’t be restricting residents from having a vegetable garden, just because their lots are small.
He outlined many benefits to a vegetable garden, including encouraging healthier eating, eating local, and eating and sharing what you grow. The gardens can be pesticide-free and mostly organic, he said.
Gardening leads to improved mental and physical wellness — it can be incredibly rewarding to eat a great-tasting tomato you’ve grown yourself — and the hard work, exercise, fresh air and sunshine is good for gardeners, while the community engagement gives them a chance to meet other residents.
It’s also good education for young and old. “I was lucky. My parents always had a vegetable garden,” he said, explaining he had learned as a boy about how to grow vegetables.
Kids today, and even adults, “don’t necessarily know were their food is coming from or understand what is involved,” he said, adding that a community garden would be great hands-on experience, and a way for kids to learn to appreciate how food gets to their table.
It would enhance the town’s reputation, making it look forward-thinking and environmentally friendly, he said, and for some, could help address food insecurity.
All Trachsel is asking for is a suitable plot of land, reasonably flat, in full or near full sun, with parking and in a central location, and with soil that is safe and reasonably fertile, and not a walking or dog-walking area.
He mentioned the former football field next to the high school as just an example, and other areas were mentioned by councillors and staff, such as the greenspace at Niven Road and Lakeshore, and the park at the corner of Nassau and William Streets.
The location would require a good water supply, and the cost of water has to be established, said Trachsel. He added it would have to be a long-term commitment so that gardeners know before they invest time and money in their plot that they can return every year.
Liability insurance is something the town would have to look into, he added.
Trachsel said he hoped the town would make a decision by January or February at the latest, so the land could be prepared for the first gardens by April.
He was ambivalent about fencing, which is costly, but said he wouldn’t want to see people lose their crops to animals, such as coyotes and rabbits. “Maybe that’s a decision to make once we know where it is,” he suggested.
“This would be a feel-good initiative, when there is a lot around that doesn’t feel very positive right now,” he added.
“This is more about the positive benefits in the community, than a bowl of tomatoes.”
He said he was hoping to solicit a response from other residents “to see the interest, see what size they want, and what area they need.”
Coun. Norm Arsenault, a member of the town’s environment committee, said they had looked at the idea, but weren’t sure whether there was a demand for a community garden. He said he supported further investigation of the concept.
Coun. Gary Burroughs made a motion and received unanimous support for asking staff to report back in a few months, looking at location, cost, insurance, “and to see if we can do something to further these community gardens.”