Among the many long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is a spike in the number of people gardening, with Statistics Canada reporting that greenhouse, sod, and nursery sales went up 7.5 per cent in 2021.
B.C. makes up a significant portion of these sales, containing 21.4 per cent of the country’s plant and flower sales, which might explain why areas like Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are currently experiencing a severe shortage of community garden spaces.
Anyone wanting to grab their own little slice of garden space in either of these cities is looking at a wait time of at least two years.
Christian Cowley, who is the executive director of the CEED Centre Society, explained that the two gardens operated by CEED have a waitlist of 20-30 people, many of whom never even get a spot because they give up after a year of waiting.
“My turnover is only two to four people/families a year,” explained Cowley.
CEED’s 27 community garden plots make up almost a third of Maple Ridge’s total number of beds, with each of the five publicly available community garden sites all being full or nearly full.
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Fred Armstrong, manager of corporate communications for the City of Maple Ridge, said the city has experienced a noticeable increase in the number of requests they receive for additional community garden spaces.
As a result, the city is trying to expand its gardening opportunities wherever it can.
“Work is currently underway to look at developing additional community garden spaces within the downtown area on City-owned properties as well as other parks, where there is a community partner to operate a garden,” said Armstrong.
Recently, Maple Ridge unveiled a brand-new community garden at the Silver Valley Gathering Place, which Armstrong said will become available for the 2023 gardening season.
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But even with the addition of the 24 Silver Valley Gathering Place garden plots, Maple Ridge is still far behind Pitt Meadows in terms of the number of public garden beds in the community.
Cowley explained that while Maple Ridge has approximately 100 garden plots, Pitt Meadows has 200, even though it only has about a fifth of the population.
“The Pitt Meadows population to garden space ratio is approximately 200/18,000 or 1.1 per cent. The Maple Ridge population to garden space ratio is at best 100/90,000 or 0.1 per cent,” said Cowley. “Coquitlam has Colony Farm with 250 plots that are 10 feet by 15 feet.”
“Our population grows at approximately 2,500 to 3,000 persons per year. A substantial portion is either multi-family buildings like condos and apartments, or single-family dwellings that occupy the majority of the lot space, creating inhospitable shade for growing food crops that require sun.”
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Despite having double the number of community garden spaces, Pitt Meadows is still experiencing its own lack of available garden beds, according to Carolyn Baldridge, manager of communications and community engagement for the City of Pitt Meadows.
“The Pitt Meadows Garden Society has had a waitlist for several years, which demonstrates the need in the community,” said Baldridge.
The Pitt Meadows Community Garden, which hosts all of the city’s public garden spaces, recently underwent an expansion in October of 2022, which added 20 new plots. But the city hopes to do even more for local gardeners in the near future.
“Due to popularity and an increase in need, the Parks, Recreation, and Culture Master Plan included plans to expand community garden space either at the existing site or through the addition of satellite locations in Pitt Meadows.”
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Cowley said that previous attempts have been made to try and get the cities to add new spaces, but to no avail.
“We [CEED Centre Society] offered to create one garden a year and to manage them for the modest sum of $10,000 per year, back when the two cities had a joint Parks Commission, but the staff shot down the idea immediately,” said Cowley.
“We have also proposed to double the size of the Pioneer Park garden at a very low cost by reconfiguring the fence to join a perimeter fence. I have not received any response to this proposal.”
Until more community garden spaces can be added in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, locals interested in trying their hand at gardening will have to look elsewhere to do so.
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