In this special series, Park People explores the people who make up the Park Friends movement. Each month, we will ask one park volunteer to share with us what inspires them to give their time and energy to city parks.
This month, we talk to Eleanor Jimenez, who helped found Rexdale’s Panorama Community Garden. Eleanor admits, she’s not giving up her volunteer post until she can find someone who can dedicate themselves to keeping it going. She runs a garden that first and foremost, cultivates a sense of belonging in Rexdale’s high rise Panorama community.
How Did your Involvement with Parks Begin?
This started out as a paid job. I was working at ANC (Action for Neighbourhood Change, United Way) and a Rexdale garden group needed help getting a community garden off the ground. After the ANC job ended, I kept working as a volunteer.
I’d already invested time and I didn’t want the garden to fail. It’s been 5 years and I’m staying here until the right person comes along.
When I started, it was a job. But, I got to know the people in the area. I’ve seen how the garden touches people’s lives.
I go to bed knowing they’ve fed their family using the food they’ve grown in their own garden. I don’t need payment for that.
What Makes Parks Better?
Parks need small ways to get people out of their apartments and the stresses of their daily lives: a playground for kids, a movie night for families, board games for seniors, a community garden to grow fresh food.
It’s important to think about the people who use the park. The seniors group I work with, they want shade and board games. These are small things, but you need to ask people how their park can serve them.
What’s Your Dream for this Park?
The people in these buildings all need to have a plot in this community garden. Everyone needs to get outside, grow food and learn a little.
Right now there’s a waiting list. That shouldn’t be the case.
The garden should be three times its size and everyone should get out of their apartments to grow and connect with each other.
What’s Been Your Biggest Triumph?
The fence (laughs). That’s an 8-foot fence. No other park has that. It’s not supposed to go over 6 feet. But, with a shorter foot fence, the deer were eating everything. We pitched the City’s Community Gardens program, showing them pictures of the damage the deer were causing. It took a year of hard work with the City to get that tall fence in, but we did it!
What’s the Craziest Thing That’s Ever Happened?
Early on, there was no water for the gardens. Every day, 8 volunteers filled barrels with water from people’s apartments and drove the barrels to the garden. We did that every day for a full season.
What Advice Would You Give?
Learn how to talk to the people who you want to use your community garden. Listen to them, invite them and always include them in your plans.
If they ask you to do something, try it no matter what.
Stay close and on good terms with everyone connected to your park: the Park Supervisor, Councillor, non-profits and residents. Go out to community events and meet new people, and bring them back to your park.