In these times of economic uncertainty and environmental crisis many people are turning to gardens as an alternative to grocery stores for their food. In New Brunswick, there are community gardens in Fredericton, Sackville, Moncton, Bathurst and Saint John.
Andi Emrich, an organizer with the NB Community Harvest Gardens in Fredericton, explains that community gardens can “build community, bring people together from different backgrounds, build resilience in the city, build capacity, give people more skills to improve their lives, and diversify green space.” Jeffrey St. Pierre, also with the group, believes community gardens are important because they can provide food to the community food bank, provide environmentally sustainable and inexpensive local nutritious food, as well as provide gardening space for those in apartment buildings.
A variety of community groups such as Daybreak Mental Health Centre and Tantramar Family Resource Centre have plots in the Sackville Community Garden. The garden is also home to Community Forests International’s apple permaculture garden and native forest garden.
Committed to organic gardening and supporting the local economy, the Sackville Community Garden does not use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. The Sackville Community Garden supports the local greenhouse, Anderson’s, by purchasing Maritime organic seeds from it. The garden places an emphasis on growing vegetables and fruits that can thrive in the Tantramar area.
NB Community Harvest Gardens has approached Fredericton city councillors and staff with their idea of turning patches of Fredericton’s public green space into community garden plots. The group has been eyeing a small corner of Wilmot Park on Woodstock Road as a potential site for a community garden. It is near high density dwellings, has access to bike trails, bus routes, sidewalks and parking, and it boasts facilities like water and washrooms.
City officials cite security, pests, vandalism and an “overarching vision to maintain as much unobstructed green space as possible” as reasons for not supporting community gardens in city parks. On the other hand, the city has discussed the possibility of rezoning parkland as surplus land, facilitating development of those lands.
Residents organized a petition against rezoning the parkland in the spring of 2010 while the Conservation Council of NB, Nature Trust NB, Nature NB and the Fredericton Nature Club went on record against the sale, development or disposal of the city’s parkland. Due to public outcry, the city passed a one year moratorium on rezoning parkland on May 31st. Residents welcomed the decision but continue to seek a long term guarantee that their neighbouring natural areas will be protected.
Food security, referring to the availability of food and one’s access to it, is a growing problem as oil and food prices rise. More and more small farmers are going out of business to be replaced by large unsustainable industrial farms. Cities now depend on food imports from across the globe. New Brunswick imports 85% of its food. According to some estimates, if trucks stopped due to a hurricane for example, grocery stores would be out of food in three days.
Small-scale family farming was once dominant in our region. Today, agriculture is characterized by land concentration and increasingly mechanized production. Waves of small farmers were and continue to this day to be dispossessed of their farms, forced to join the swelling ranks of wage-labourers without land.
New Brunswick farmers are depending more than ever before on off-farm income to support themselves and their operations, according to figures released by Statistics Canada in August 2010. Off-farm activities such as part-time jobs or operating another business account for 75.6 per cent of the total income of New Brunswick farmers. The provincial government’s lack of support to our farmers is indicative in the amount allocated in provincial budgets to agriculture. According to New Brunswick’s provincial 2010-2011 Main Budget Estimates, the combined ordinary account budget for the Department of Agriculture and Aquaculture is less than one percent (a paltry 0.56%) of the total provincial ordinary account budget.
The variety of movements around food, including slow-food, local food, organic food and community gardens, are attempting to counteract the symptoms of a broken system.