Ucluelet’s days as the only West Coast community without a community garden are numbered.
A potential local food growing scene is sprouting at Edna Batchelor Park and the project moved a step closer to reality last week as Ucluelet’s municipal council unanimously endorsed it.
Jeanne Keith-Ferris and Lorna Watson launched the Ucluelet Local Food Society last year in an effort to get a community garden going and, with council’s support in the bag, will now look to various granting opportunities to fund their initiative and get it growing.
In a report reviewed by council during their Feb. 14 regular meeting, Ucluelet’s director of parks and recreation Abby Fortune and Planner 1 John Towgood expressed support for the project and cited Edna Batchelor Park as the best place to plant it.
“Community gardens have been built and are successfully running in many communities across Vancouver Island,” they wrote. “The societal structures, guidelines and documentation are easily available and staff inquiries to other local governments on their experience with community garden projects have been positive.”
The report suggests Tugwell Fields and Seaplane Base Rec Hall Field were both investigated as alternatives locations for the garden, but Seaplane’s site was too small and Tugwell’s was too far away from the heart of town.
The Ucluelet Local Food Society co-hosted an open house with Ucluelet’s municipal staff on Feb. 2 to bring area residents up to speed on the potential garden and gather feedback, according to the report, which stated exit surveys filled out by the event’s attendees were predominantly positive with 10 surveys in favour of the project and two opposed.
“Food security, community outreach as well as access to a garden were the primary reasons for the support,” the report states. “Concerns for the project primarily focused on parking, privacy, interaction with wildlife and drainage.”
The report laid out mitigation strategies for each of these concerns, including the possible addition of two new parking spots, fencing and a strict no-composting policy to limit wildlife interactions, and keeping specific and consistent hours for gardeners to access their plots.
Fortune and Towgood’s report added that, while some staff time would be put towards the project, the society is not asking the district for any money yet as various grant opportunities are being sniffed out.
“The final financial impact will be assessed as the success of the grant applications are known and the Ucluelet Local Food Society will, if required, bring forward a request for funding,” they wrote. “To be clear, there is no financial commitment at this time.”
Council unanimously supported the garden idea in principle, but several councillors raised concerns.
“In my own experience, community gardens are a great thing, but also can be a bit onerous,” said Coun. Sally Mole adding she had lived next to one in Seattle.
“Right next door to me was a pea patch and I saw a lot of thieving going on there, and just a bit of abuse, but it was also very lovely to have right next door.”
Coun. Mayco Noel suggested putting the district’s parks and recreation team in charge of the site in case the local food society loses focus.
“Right now, there’s a good movement. There’s a positive group, but if people change and they don’t have the same kind of enthusiasm, or the same kind of leadership, it could have a negative, which would have a real big negative on the neighbourhood down there,” Noel said. “Although it’s a community venue, there still has to be a little bit of oversight probably.”
Coun. Oliwa wondered if the district would be on the hook if the society’s grant applications were rejected or interest disappeared.
“If it were to get up and running and then cease to exist, would it default to us to accept those costs of dismantling and all that end of it?,” he asked.
District CAO Andrew Yeates responded that any dismantling costs would be charged to the district.
Oliwa said the project was worth a shot.
“I do think it’s a worthwhile endeavour to at least try,” he said. “Better to try and fail than never try at all.”