Recently moving to Fredericton, Christine arrived in 2017 from Ontario, while Faith came from Nigeria as an international student in 2021. We are both curious about the somewhat hidden world of community gardens in Fredericton.
First, what exactly is a community garden? Community gardens are shared spaces where people can grow fruits, vegetables and flowers, either for themselves or for other people in the community. Such gardens can provide many benefits: lowering food insecurities, stimulating local economies, improving community health through enhanced nutrition and physical activity, and minimizing food transportation costs which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change. As an added bonus, community gardens are fun and create a sense of community.
Although they are prevalent in some suburban and rural communities, community gardens have become increasingly popular and form an important part of booming urban communities. With urbanization and public health concerns on the rise around the world, community gardening has been recommended by researchers as a “mechanism for addressing socio-ecological determinants of health.” This means, in part, that community gardens can help reconnect people with nature through activities that allow them to interact with gardens and other green spaces, beneficial to and even rectify environmental and human health.
Canada is a highly urbanized country, with 82 per cent of our population living in urban areas. It is in this context that urban agriculture, especially community gardening, has benefits. In some places, including Vancouver, Montreal, Mississauga, Lutselk’e, Spryfield, Edmonton, and Sackville, community gardens are positive places.
Mississauga’s Garden of the Valley has improved the local ecosystems with flowering plants in parks that attract pollinators such as bees. Vancouver’s Green Street Project has noticed full-body benefits throughout its community, such as “improved strength and aerobic health.”
But in some communities zoning regulations prevent many kinds of gardening. Hannah Moore’s article, “Planting urban food gardens in New Brunswick,” describes these challenges.
Moncton does not enjoy the same freedoms as Fredericton, where there are no clear restrictions on front yard gardening. Instead, a complaint filed with the City of Moncton urban planning department, brought to light the fact that front yard gardens are not “not consistent with the city’s definition of ‘landscaping.’ The result? The garden had to be removed. In Moncton, zoning regulations restrict residents from gardening in their front yards, which is sometimes the only space available. Despite the growing popularity of (and need for) front yard gardens, people around the world are encountering zoning regulation issues.
We wondered if other people were curious about gardens like we were. To find out what people think about community gardens, we put together a survey to ask Fredericton residents for their opinion. The online survey was answered by 37 people, all adults of various genders over the age of 18, from a diversity of ethnic, racial and educational backgrounds.
What we found is that people want community gardens in urban areas in New Brunswick.
Most people in our survey indicated feeling enthusiastic about community gardening. Most want a gardening space within five to ten blocks from their homes and would prefer an individual space within the community garden.
Many people in our survey also showed that they would pay a small annual fee for gardening space, and the opportunity to grow produce for their own consumption
Others indicated an interest in community gardening, seeing this as an opportunity to acquire gardening skills, enjoy recreational time and socializing, support food banks, community food programs and vulnerable populations, and to reduce the cost of groceries.
Urban areas within the province have an increased desire for community gardens as a growing number of residents are keen to grow organic food given its recognized health benefits. Some crops of interest include spinach, carrots, potatoes, various spices, broccoli, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, beetroots, aloe vera, kale, and maize. What would you plant in your community garden?
Others who would benefit from community gardening are schools, hospitals, community centres, and those who live in dwellings that don’t support gardening spaces, such as apartments and condos. Considering the continuous rise in the cost of food, fuel, rent, and despite booming construction in urban areas across the province, we don’t see an increase in apartment and condo designs supporting community subsistence gardening for their tenants.
In a follow-up semi-structured interview, most interviewees who are newcomers (mostly of Black race) mentioned that they never heard of community gardening, and the few who knew about it, did not know how to get involved. Also, newcomers expressed their desire to grow their country’s food and wondered if the soil and climate would support non-native plants. While many support community gardening, there is a lack of clarity about who to contact, what, and how to start.
There is an opportunity to advocate for and support community gardening in New Brunswick. New Brunswickers should become more involved in community gardening, given its stated benefits for individuals and communities alike. Do you want to start a community garden in your area? Wellness NB provides a great resource on how to do just that.
There is a surprising amount of community gardens and food programs across the province. For more information, please visit Food For All NB to get started on a garden, connect to a food program or find a garden near you.
There is a great opportunity to advocate and support community gardening in New Brunswick. New Brunswickers, especially newcomers, should be more included and integrated into community gardening, given its stated benefits for individuals and communities alike. Fruits grown in community gardens should reflect the rich and diverse cultures of the province.
Faith Timipere Allison is a doctoral student at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of New Brunswick. Christine Jean is a master’s student at the University of New Brunswick, studying and researching human-nature relationships. Both Faith and Christine are researchers and writers with the Human Environments Workshop (HEW) funded by RAVEN.