Samuel LeGresley has a passion for permaculture.
After lots of conversations with friends about permaculture and how to build community, LeGresley was able to partner with the owners of a vacant lot in Moncton to create an ecological initiative on their land.
The lot is at the corner of Park and Pine streets, so the collective garden is called Park & Pine. Advice on getting started came from some well-established local garden groups – Garden Cities and Jardin Symbiose among them. Together they shaped a vision for the various stages of development that the space could take over time.
The lot was initially set for a new build, but the owner changed course and bought a home instead, freeing up some urban space for learning and experimentation.
Since 2020, the garden has been set-up in a well-established residential neighbourhood, very close to downtown in the City of Moncton. The site is easy to reach by bike or foot for folks in the area.
The initial inspiration was to create a biointensive kind of garden, “Jean-Martin Fortier-style,” but over time the group started incorporating more perennials with the idea of eventually making the space a food forest.
“The non-profit group, Garden Cities, was adding food forests in Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview, so they helped us get started with some trees,” LeGresley says. “We did a hügelkultur and we have things like a row of raspberry cane instead of a fence. The idea is to let anyone come, not to keep people out.”
A collective garden is a new iteration of our modern community garden. Instead of 4×8 raised beds rented to individuals, everyone gardens together in the space and shares the harvest. Park & Pine gardeners often meet on Saturday mornings to work together. They use Facebook and email to stay in communication and coordinate with each other.
There are a lot of advantages to this model, as compared with a typical community garden. Most importantly, shared labour is more efficient. If someone is in the neighbourhood and the plants need to be covered before a frost, one person can cover everything, rather than 20 people showing up to cover their own bed. Same goes for watering during the summer. People from the community are welcome to take what they like from the beds and members get to learn from each other because they work together.
“Finding the lot was kind of lucky, it just happened for us,” LeGresley says. “It might be a challenge for others to find the right place to get started.”
However, in the “small world” of New Brunswick, this might not really be so hard. There are many suburban and rural spaces that can be found for little to no cost.
Setting up something like this in a rural area would be a lot easier too.
If you are approaching farmers to ask for a land share for a project like this, LeGresley recommends you “show up ready to prove that you have some experience and will use the land well.”
In this case, by-laws have been a somewhat gray area, because the lot was vacant. By-laws on front yard food gardens shifted in the City of Moncton during the pandemic, and are now allowed. These things would be important to consider where you are living. At this point the lease is a verbal understanding with the landowner. The lot may not be available forever, but it will be put to great use for now.
At present, Park & Pine is a not-for-profit community venture and it may stay that way. In thinking about how others could turn this model into a livelihood, LeGresley suggests leasing or getting permission to use several urban lots at the same time; similar to the Curtis Stone model for urban agriculture.
The peer support of a collective garden could allow a small group of folks to get together and experiment with different business models, find their interests and see if they want to try out farming in a more serious way without much personal risk or investment. It could become a social enterprise too, and offer several part-time jobs in the community.
Right now, the focus is on heritage tomatoes and there is always a lot of surplus for community members.
“People might think that you would have a problem with people in the community taking too much or vandalizing things, but we find that when we give things away for free, we actually have a harder time getting people to take enough,” says LeGresley.
Volunteers between two and 82 years old help out and the focus is to have quality over quantity with volunteers. People should feel that they really want to be there.
“Finding the balance is the fun part of it. We are challenging expectations of what the community could be and we are cultivating community even through the pandemic,” says LeGresley.
To the best of this writer’s knowledge, Park & Pine is the only collective garden that exists in New Brunswick right now.
This story is part of the Land Access Guide for New Brunswick Farmers published by the RAVEN project. You can find more stories about the creative ways that New Brunswick Farmers are getting onto the land on RAVEN’s website.
Amy Floyd is a Senior Food Security Policy Analyst with the RAVEN Project and focuses on rural issues, food sovereignty and permaculture. She can be reached at Amy@RAVEN-research.org.