Growing a community garden
Are you considering a community garden for your community? Chloe Sanchez is working on one for her Community Housing residence and her experience and insights can help you get started.
Chloe Sanchez believes that green spaces “unlock the parts of people that allow them to expand and grow.” This belief has fuelled Chloe’s work on a community garden that will bring the healing power of plants to the people in her neighbourhood. Chloe lives at Toronto’s 415 Willowdale, a Toronto Community Housing community in the inner suburb of North York. The community is made up of 280 units with very little access to green spaces. Chloe is 415 Willowdale’s tenant representative and has been working for three years to realize her vision of a healing, outdoor space for the people living in her community, and beyond.
Two years ago, a grant offered through Park people and TD Bank helped Chloe begin envisioning and planning her greening project. She quickly discovered that the property she wanted to use to create a community garden was not, in fact, owned by Toronto Community Housing, but by the City of Toronto. This unexpected learning added complexity and extended the timeline for the project. Chloe maintained a positive attitude and pivoted, giving her focus to animating the vacant green space with events to deepen the community’s engagement in the concept of growing healing and medicinal plants. Now, Chloe is moving forward her community’s vision for a greenhouse that features plants that heal.
Here’s how she did it.
Chloe’s advice is simple: start with your city councillor.
“It’s critical to develop a relationship with your councillor, but it’s not as easy as it sounds, because they’re often so busy.”
When first meeting your councillor, Chloe advises bringing your proposal, project plan and blueprints. Because they were so well prepared, Chloe and her group had a positive response from their councillor and were able to develop further plans that addressed their questions and concerns. One of the concerns was related to vandalism and theft that has occurred in several other community gardens. To address this concern, Chloe worked with the city on the concept of a greenhouse.
Chloe also advises that groups work hand in hand with their funders, who can offer much more than financial support for projects. She credits TD FEF with providing practical advice and feedback on both the initial vision for the garden and the greenhouse. “They’ve worked on so many projects. It’s a good idea to connect with funders like TD FEF for advice and insight to make the project succeed. You both have a vested interested in making the project a success.”
Chloe knows alot about medicinal plants, but she also knows that there are a number of people who have more specialized expertise than her:
“If I don’t know something, I don’t know it. But, that’s okay, because other people are around who can help me.”
Chloe and her group have consulted with numerous experts including Indigenous leaders, horticulturalists, naturalists and educators. In fact, experts have led many public events at the site, including nature walks and the making of natural treats like jams, herbal teas and natural skin salves. These events help community members get engaged in the idea of the community garden and see the direct benefits. Chloe advises groups to provide an honorarium to people providing their expertise wherever possible, “paying people a small amount shows them that you value their time and knowledge.”
The group also worked with numerous professionals including the architects, planners and city officials who are helping make the greenhouse a reality. Chloe advises that choosing the right people to work with is critical for your project’s success, so take your time in selecting the pros you want on your team.
It takes a village
Chloe is working with a team of ten volunteers. When it’s busy, the team meets weekly. During the colder months, they meet monthly. The group has divided up responsibilities in areas like volunteer engagement, outreach and workshop coordination. This volunteer team will also oversee the final plans for the greenhouse and its building. “It’s important to have a diverse team. You need people with different skills like experience working with funders, the city, w participants and with planting. Be open to everyone,” suggests Chloe
Build in diversity
The North York community, in which Chloe lives, is incredibly diverse. The group has actively created ways for many of the ethnic and cultural communities to engage in the healing garden and greenhouse. Programming such as making tea and hosting an Iranian tea ceremony helps encourage the local Iranian community to get engaged in the garden. The group has also fostered a relationship with their local Chinese community through regular activities like Tai Chi and Chinese medicine workshops. Indigenous communities have been engaged through nature walks and programming, featuring the many uses for herbs such as sweetgrass and sage.
Chloe advises that when you’re choosing what to grow in the garden, be sure to have fan favourites like lavender and bergamot, but also consult people of a range of cultural backgrounds and consider ethnic crops that can grow locally.
Take your time
One point that Chloe wants to emphasize is, “breathe, this is going to take a while.” The process of securing the permits for the greenhouse took the 415 Willowdale group more than two years. However, Chole emphasizes that going slowly has its benefits. “At every stage,” Chloe says, “I’ve learned something that will make this project better.” The greenhouse is set to be built in 2019. It’s been a three year journey, but one that will make a world of impact in her community.
This resource was developed with support from