Over the last 6 years I’ve been working closely with community workers, educators as well as activists and residents from when we designed, supported and financed gardens as well as gardens at schools as well as community groups.
We created adult education internships that provide hands-on gardening and educational assistance to investigate the ways in which gardens serve as spaces for people to address justice for the environment and social justice. Participants faced barriers to work or food insecurity, as well as homelessness.
The study and the work with community members showed how crucial it is to push for broad social as well as educational changes that support gardening by community members — and to recognize the need to have realistic expectations about what one can achieve in and through gardens.
Who do benefits reach?
In Tio’tia’s:ke/Montreal community gardening is carried out in a variety of ways. It could include gardening activities at community-based organizations as well as city-run gardens.
There are long waiting lists for an area for gardening in the city. This is exacerbated by the fact that communal gardens were generally less accessible for homeowners people.
The mayor says that according to Montreal, “for many people the community gardens are more than just a place to enjoy a leisure. They provide food for their families and get fresh food at a reasonable cost.”
These assertions obscure deeper questions about who is in control of and has access to community gardens as well as more deeply rooted social inequities related to the rights of land in the capitalist colonial society which favors ownership and whiteness as well as hierarchical forms of interrelation.
Sunflowers at The McGill University faculty of education garden. (Mitchell McLarnon) (Author provided) (no reuse)
Relationship with food insecurity
My findings challenge the notion that gardening in community is an action that helps to reduce communities with low access to hunger and food security.
Looking back on my efforts to cultivate food for groups working with people suffering from food insecurity in a project known as “Gardening for Food Security,” I can’t say that gardening has helped ease the anxiety of those who experience the problem of food security in any tangible way.
The country still produces an enormous quantity of food that is harvested in bi-weekly or weekly intervals from the end of June until the middle of November in 2018 and 2019.
While the gardens were flourishing and the garden was thriving, the organization did not cut the amount of food they provided to Montreal’s most extensive foodbank. This could be due to the fact that even though participants ate the fruits of their garden but their reliance on the food supply did not diminish their requirement for other food items. It is possible that the Gardening for Food Security project however did only modestly provide an emergency food bank and an once-a-week meal program.
Kale can be seen growing within the gardens of Benedict Labre House, an charity that assists homeless people located in Griffintown, Montreal. (Mitchell McLarnon) The author has provided (no reuse)
Mixed results for communities and individuals
When we tended and put money into gardens for a variety of environmental, educational, and social reasons in rapidly growing neighborhoods and contributed to the increase in land values through an era known by some as “green gentrification.”.
In spite of these criticisms however, the benefits of the project were:
providing relevant, paid work that is suitable for young adults facing obstacles to employment or food insecurity, as well as homelessness
offering mentorship and opportunities to students and young adults in need of mentorship to communicate (through photography, art, music, film or gardening);
Promoting collaboration between organizations and schools that are entrusted with the mission of environmental and social justice to benefit all parties;
getting ongoing financial, learning and human resource support for learners, educators and community workers as well as community members while establishing ethical relationships and working together to achieve common goals.
The last three types of benefits are hard to quantify for the funders.