Fredericton – Driving down the roads of New Brunswick you might see the occasional farm, maybe a few cattle in the fields, but what you may not realize is just how much we don’t produce.
Edee Klee is the Co-Chair of the New Brunswick Community Harvest Gardens, an organization devoted to providing accessible, inclusive and sustainable spaces for all citizens to garden together in the City of Fredericton. For her the fear of knowing how little food we have in New Brunswick is disturbing.
“What’s happening is that we’re importing 85% of our food. And in New Brunswick we only keep enough food for everyone to last 3-4 days,” said Klee. She looks down on the imports of so many goods. From transportation costs to the price of not knowing what’s in our food there are many dangers to relying so much on distant producers.
Klee thinks that if we don’t start making changes on a personal level then the number of imported goods will just continue to rise and we will be more food insecure. “We have an aging farming community and their kids just don’t see any benefits in keeping the family farm alive,” stated Klee.
The loss of our seasonal diet is another problem that concerns Klee. A seasonal diet involves people eating foods that are available locally during the different seasons. New Brunswickers enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables in the summer months while root-based vegetables are a more common staple in the winter.
“In the past we used to eat what was in season but now, for example, we’re demanding strawberries in the middle of January,” said Klee.
When the option to buy local produce is before us it can cost more. Klee uses the apple to discuss one of the reasons for local produce costing more when it should not. “We don’t have an apple bagging plant in New Brunswick. We have to ship off our apples to Nova Scotia where they are processed and bagged. Then they’re sold back to us at a higher price,” stated Klee.
Klee believes that changes are coming in the way our food is produced and consumed. “People are starting to ask questions. Where did it come from? Is it organic? Were chemicals used at all? And it’s great that they are asking these questions because this is the perfect time to start to look for solutions closer to home,” said Klee.
Community gardens involve people growing food in their neighbourhoods. At 780 McEvoy Street on the north side of Fredericton is a garden that is celebrating its second year of food production. The garden belongs to residents of the surrounding area and was made possible through a partnership with St. Mary’s Anglican Church.
Andi Emrich, the Secretary for NB Community Harvest Gardens, has worked on the community garden since its beginning. For her it’s been a great success seeing more than 70 garden plots being used. There is even a waiting list. In one year they made the garden and grew fresh, organic, local produce in every plot.
For her and others the garden ensures that they know what is in their food. “Our garden is completely organic. We don’t allow the use of chemicals. We’re trying to make a healthy environment to build and learn from,” stated Emrich.
While the group celebrates its many successes, they have also faced many challenges. According to Klee, the City of Fredericton is at times very helpful. They even offered the group an unlimited amount of compost. However, the group would like the City’s support in securing more land for other gardens.
“We have a waiting list right now to plant in this garden and we want to be able to give everyone a plot. The hope is to find a plot of land on the south side so it’s available to everyone,” stated Emrich.
The request for more land for food production in Fredericton has been met with some resistance. “Some of the councillors think that they’re unsightly, which is wrong. We should have a demonstration site to show people what they can do in their own backyard,” said Klee.
One of the ideal locations for a community garden on the south side of Fredericton, according to Klee, is near Wilmot Park and the Delta Hotel. The location is within walking distance to large apartment buildings. However, the land is currently classified as Zone A by the Wellfield Protection Act. Members of the NB Community Harvest Gardens say that the Act, under the gardening and fertilizers section, allows “routine gardening including compost for residential purposes.” The city though is calling the community garden an agricultural project which would fall into a different section and allow only the use of pre-existing agricultural activities.
Klee says the hardest part so far has been getting land. She says getting volunteers to help build the garden and people to grow organically in the plots is easy.
The group plans to continue fighting to have a garden on the south side that is in reach of the people who need and want it. Emrich hopes that in the future the stereotypes that people might have about community gardens is washed away. “I think there’s just not enough of them around, so people have misconceptions about them. So we hope more people come out to see what it really is,” said Emrich.
Mayoral candidate Matthew Hayes talks local
Mayoral candidate Matthew Hayes recently spoke out about the need to support local food production in Fredericton. At the launch of his platform plank on local food and community gardens at the Sunset U-pick on Fredericton’s north side on April 26th, he talked to residents who want more land allocated to growing food.
Hayes is concerned that there is too much red tape that makes it almost impossible for people living inside Fredericton to grow their own food. He believes that land not being used could be provided to local growers. “I think it would be great to have more small lots available for families that don’t have enough land to have their own backyard garden,” said Hayes.
On the topic of community gardens, Hayes’ platform points to the health and wellness benefits of gardening and consuming local food while also listing several social benefits: “Community gardens bring together neighbours and families and provide meaningful ways for people to stay active and share their knowledge with others. Community gardens are a source of low-cost food that increases the independence of people on limited incomes. Market gardens give space to small scale urban farming to produce local food.”
Hayes announced his intentions to create a Fredericton Food Council if elected. The council, composed of community members, would cut the red tape surrounding urban agriculture and it would make proposals for local food production.
Ethan Haslett writes for the NB Media Co-op.