Peterborough as a Community Gardens Leader

A pollinator does its job in a local community garden. Photo by Matt Susac.

Community gardens are becoming more common around urban spaces, providing a variety of benefits. Gardens can be a significant asset to urban environments, as greening these spaces often contributes to community wellbeing and improves ecosystem biodiversity. There are also the obvious benefits of providing safe, fresh and affordable food to local communities, as well as opportunities to learn and share knowledge on gardening.

According to the Nourish Project, Peterborough currently has forty-three community gardens, the highest number of per capita community gardens in the country! These include gardens at local schools, churches, municipal and private property, as well as the rooftop and field gardens at Trent University. These community gardens don’t spring up on their own, depending on the hard work and dedication of local citizens and organizations for their continued success. Such organizations include (but are not limited to) the Nourish Project, the Peterborough Haliburton YWCA, Peterborough Public Health, Peterborough GreenUP, OPIRG Peterborough, Sustainable Peterborough, Kawartha Food Share and many local farmers, chefs, and other engaged citizens. And if you’re interested in forming a new community garden, it is relatively easy with the help of the Nourish Project, which can help you find a plot of land that is a good fit for you.

Although Peterborough is the Canadian leader in per capita community gardens, it also ranks at the top of a less desirable list. In 2014, a University of Toronto research team found that among the 27 Canadian cities they examined, food insecurity was the highest in Peterborough, Ontario. Food insecurity exists when people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development to lead an active and healthy life. Community gardens are just one way of working towards improving food security by providing localized access to fresh, healthy produce, and it’s one of the main solutions Peterborough seems to be utilizing.

Trent University has long-established vegetable gardens, including the field garden which is located northeast of the DNA Building on East Bank Drive, and the rooftop garden located on top of the Environmental Science Complex. Both gardens are maintained by a dedicated team of students and community members, and harvests are donated to the Seasoned Spoon Café, the One Roof Community Centre, the YES Shelter for Youth and Families, and Food Not Bombs Peterborough. Such practices help to both increase access to fresh, healthy produce to those who otherwise might not have it, as well as increase the food sovereignty of the overall community.

The food sovereignty movement is booming in Peterborough, which is no doubt helped by the strong presence of community gardens. Locally producing food centralizes the food system and allows consumers to have more agency in the food they eat, thus increasing food sovereignty. Engaging more directly in food systems can also help build a sense of community around this connection to local food production. Other ways of reclaiming food sovereignty have occurred in Peterborough over the years. A unique ‘guerilla gardening’ initiative, covered by Arthur in 2013, involved planting vegetables on unused public land around Peterborough and donating the harvest to OPIRG’s food cupboard. Such initiatives repurpose unused land to reclaim food sovereignty and improve food security in the community.

Community gardens are not only a solution to improving food security and food sovereignty. They also contribute to community health in a broader ecological sense. Community gardens are a means of greening urban spaces and making use of under-utilized land. They also support pollinators, providing food for bees and butterflies in addition to people. Peterborough Pollinators, an organization promoting the growth of pollinator-friendly plants, has a list of viable crops for pollinators, which includes tomatoes, squash, eggplants, pumpkins, blueberries, cherries, and apples.

In a broader sense, community gardens also reduce pollution by both sequestering carbons as well as reducing the resources needed for food shipping. Most foods in grocery stores travel long distances to get there, emitting high amounts of carbon and waste associated with transportation. Growing food locally helps to alleviate this waste. Small scale gardens also have the benefit of reducing the need for long amounts of pesticides and fertilizers used to grow commercial crops, reducing the amount of potentially harmful chemicals released into the environment for agricultural purposes. It seems community gardens are just a healthy choice all around.

All in all, there are many ways to participate in Peterborough’s vibrant community garden scene. Whether you are motivated by issues surrounding food security, food sovereignty, biodiversity, ecosystem health, or community building, community gardens are a great way to make a difference.

A pollinator does its job in a local community garden. Photo by Matt Susac.