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Toronto Community Garden Network: “To learn the importance of caring for land and water”

Gardening, getting your hands on the ground, have the pleasure of seeing what you sowed to grow. Harvesting, enjoying the taste and beauty of nature … these will, for many, be more than sufficient motivations to actively participate in the events promoted or encouraged by the Toronto Community Garden Network. In this edition of Milénio Stadium we will introduce you to this institution that can be a useful partner for those who want to live their lives closer to nature and much healthier.

Milénio Stadium: What is and what does the Toronto Community Garden Network (TCGN)?
Rhonda Teitel-Payne: TCGN is currently a project of Toronto Urban Growers, a network of urban growers, businesses and organizations that all focus on growing food in the city. We help growers share knowledge with each other, gain access to resources such as space to grow and funding and work for supportive policies.

MS: How long does TCGN exist?
RTP: Since 1999.

MS: How does the city people react to your work regarding the creation and conservation of “green spaces”?
RTP: We have had great support from some city staff, mainly from Toronto Public Health and the Environment and Energy division. They produce guidebooks, provide information and help us resolve issues as they come up. They really understand the importance of community gardens for Toronto residents who live in high-density neighbourhoods with little access to green space.
Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation also runs allotment gardens and a community garden program that provides garden space for people who may not have any where they live.

MS: How does the TCGN contributes to improve the Torontonians quality of life and what’s the importance they give to green spaces?
RTP: By helping people gain knowledge and resources to grow food and organize a community group, TCGN accomplishes many goals for the City of Toronto and its residents. Active community gardeners create more green spaces that are accessible to everyone (including marginalized people who may not feel welcome in other spaces). Gardeners feel more healthy as they become more physically active, eat more nutritious food and feel less isolated. Many gardeners talk about how important it is to their physical and mental health to “get out of the four walls” and work in a safe, natural environment with others. We answer questions from people who want to grow food but don’t know how to find space for growing and don’t know where to find information.

MS: What does the TCGN do to elevate the Torontonians level of civic and moral consciousness towards the importance of green spaces in the city?
RTP: When residents are involved in gardening, they learn about the importance of caring for land and water. Through small actions in a community garden, they feel they can take action on larger environmental issues such as climate change and waste reduction. When residents participate in running a community garden, they learn organizational skills that they can use in other contexts, such as employment or community organizing.

MS: What is the age group that participates/contributes to the TCGN’s Social Object?
RTP: All ages! For instance, Black Creek Community Farm has a Moms and Kids garden program that creates a space for mothers to garden with toddlers. There are many garden programs across the city for children, youth, adults and seniors. Gardening is particularly good for seniors because it is gentle exercise and there are adaptive tools and raised beds for people with mobility issues.

MS: Has it been an easy task to properly maintain the green spaces?
RTP: It depends entirely on the garden group. Some groups are very good at keeping people involved even during the hot summer months when there isn’t much to do but pull weeds! Some gardens plant flowers that don’t provide food for people but attract pollinators and make the garden space attractive. The gardeners must be committed to be active throughout the entire growing season.

MS: The city of Toronto continues to grow. How will TCGN keep pace?
RTP: We are looking at all of the different kinds of places where people can start gardens – balconies, rooftops, containers and small spaces that can’t be used for other purposes. It’s exciting that many of Toronto’s newly arrived residents are experienced gardeners in their countries of origin, and they bring so much knowledge and passion for growing and sharing food. We’re finding out how many food plants from around the world grow really well in Toronto! We’re also starting to build relationships with Indigenous growers who have cultural knowledge of growing food and medicine on this land for thousands of years. We have a lot to learn from them!

MS: What plans does TCGN has to the city of Toronto in the short term?
RTP: The City of Toronto will declare the third annual Urban Agriculture Week September 14-22, 2019. This is an opportunity to celebrate Toronto-grown food and the people who grow it through 9 days of events across the city, including the Best in GrowTO Contest and the GrowRiceTO Festival. For more information, see https://uaweekto.wordpress.com/. Events will be posted at the end of July.

Jorge Eurico

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