Cruising along Queen Street towards King in downtown Kitchener you’ll find two special spots situated across from each other: the Joseph Schneider Haus and the Queen’s Green Community Garden. Today we’re digging into gardening!
More than 83 gardens make up the Waterloo Region Community Garden Network. Downtown Kitchener has its very own at the corner of Queen and Mill streets: the Queen’s Green Community Garden. The WRCGN’s intent is to use and transform vacant lots and backyards into flourishing gathering spaces that support the hearts and bellies of the community. What better way to do so than with a collective garden?
The idea for the Queen’s Green Community Garden began in 1997 and within a year the first raised beds were built. With a $25,000 grant from the City of Kitchener, funds from various corporations, and support from The Working Centre, the garden and an accompanying manual were created. The original architect drawing included 21 plots to get the ball rolling, though it has changed quite a bit since then.
The Queen’s Green Community Garden Today
The current number of plots has doubled to roughly 41, though it’s always changing to accommodate the gardeners’ needs. Many communities face food security and food sovereignty issues, and ours is no different. One of the objectives of community gardens is to address this issue. To meet the needs of all Waterloo Region residents, including many new Canadians, the WRCGN is working to add another 100 beds as soon as possible. In addition to tackling nutritional needs, another objective is to reduce the local carbon footprint and collaborate with our Indigenous neighbours at Landback.
It costs between $20 to $40 to use a plot. Members receive access to compost, water, and a tool shed with their annual commitment. According to the website, plots at the Queen’s Green Community Garden are approximately 10’x10′. The WRCGN meets monthly on the third Tuesday, except for July and sometimes August and December, and the meetings are open to the public.
The City of Kitchener provides funding for new community gardens through the Love My Hood program, such as $10k for gardens on private property and $30k for neighbourhood gardens. Most recently, 3 new gardens have sprouted throughout the city. To find the closest community garden to your home, here is a list of all 83 community gardens in Waterloo Region.
Free Edible Sidewalk Garden
So many of you were interested to learn more about the Edible Sidewalk Garden when I posted about it over on Instagram Stories. I reached out to the garden coordinators to dig a little deeper and they immediately responded with equal amounts of enthusiasm! From the generous correspondence I put together a quick post for the ‘gram, but knew I’d want to learn more and expand on everything here on the website.
A Seed is Planted
In 2017, Queen’s Green Community Garden member Glennis Yantzi planted the idea for the Edible Garden. Her goal for this project was to provide for the local community. Needless to say, the other gardeners loved the idea and started transforming the exterior garden from perennials and other plants to vegetables and herbs.
The inspiration for the Edible Sidewalk came from a book Glennis had by the name, “The Edible Garden: How to Have Your Garden and Eat It Too” by Alys Fowler (2014). After reading it, she and her husband removed their front lawn and planted a vegetable garden in its place, encouraging passersby to help themselves. They also shared their produce with the local Food Bank. About the front lawn garden social experiment Glennis says, “I was becoming suspicious that people would cross the street before reaching our house in order not to be cajoled into taking kale or cabbage home!”. Man, you wouldn’t have to twist my arm to take home delicious fresh produce grown with so much love and good intention!
Glennis’ sister also suggested she challenge herself to find ways to promote the Edible Garden as a space for anybody needing food – not just providing access to those with privilege already using the community garden.
Many Hands Make Light Work (and delicious food!)
Today, everyone at the community garden signs up for ongoing tasks throughout the year. Whether it’s watering, weeding (everyone’s favourite), composting, waste management, or other necessary jobs, everybody pitches in to maintain the perimeter garden. There is also an Edible Sidewalk Garden Committee whose participants have the responsibility and joy of planting and maintaining the veggies and herbs throughout the growing months.
Members of the garden have much to be proud of. From the attention to detail using natural landscaping with native plants, to the incorporation of delightful berry bushes, and accessible raised beds, it truly is a place for anyone to enjoy. There is even art from Andy Macpherson on the water tank and clay oven to enjoy! In 2014 the Community Clay Bake Oven was installed and quickly became a centerpiece for events, up until 2020.
In addition to the food that it provides to members and the local community, the garden is also a place of reflection, rest, and recharging. In my communication with various garden members, I learned that it was also a place of comfort and counselling, providing a peaceful setting to process grief.
Planting Ideas, Growing Stories, Engaging Minds
Not just a place for the soul and the body, the Queen’s Green Community Garden is a fantastic spot for the mind to wander and expand. In the past there have been workshops about growing and harvesting different plants, though most have been put on hold due to the current pandemic.
Thanks to the handywork of garden member, Alfred, it has also been a site of one of the Little Free Libraries of KW since March 2014. The LFL is 52″ x 15″ x 15″ and has 3 doors that open upwards. Alfred also built a birdhouse to sit on top of a fence post near to the library. Described as a “family-friendly community garden library with an emphasis on nature, craft, permaculture and urban homesteading”, it’s the perfect place to look if you’re trying to turn a thumb green.
Q&A with Jeanette, Queen’s Green Community Garden Coordinator
*some answers have been consolidated
What has the response and uptake been from the greater community (non-gardeners) over the years?
My plot is next to the Queen Street side of the Edible Garden, so I have heard and seen quite a bit. We’ve had many people walking by and looking to see what is available. Some will take produce and others just look. Some who walk the area often will be back and check to see when more produce is ready. To help educate, we now have signage as to what is planted in the garden and how and when to pick it. We will often have someone walking by who will thank us for what we do because they know how much time and effort it takes to maintain a garden. Some people will stop and chat with their walking partner about what is growing. For many it brings back memories of growing up and having a garden in their backyard. The BEST for me is when I hear parents and families interacting with their young children about the Edible Garden. That puts a smile on my face! Others have asked questions and it is nice to have the social interaction with community members and garden members.
Are there any available plots for 2021?
We have a waiting list which takes about 2 years for a person to become a permanent new gardener. People can contact us via email, the address is found on our community bulletin board, and then we send a letter to them outlining how our community garden works and the responsibility of a member. A few years ago there was a discussion at our meetings about creating space for more gardeners. At the time a few more plots were added and/or sub-divided. Some of our long-term gardeners considered having a smaller plot, so some plots were divided. Our garden had 21 plots. Now we have 41 plots to accommodate more gardeners.
Can people renew their plots or is it a lottery system? How is this decided?
People renew their plots, take a year off, or give them up. If they take a year off, we add a temporary gardener from the waiting list. If the plot is given up, we add a permanent new gardener. Because of Covid we’ve had some gardeners take time off, and some were late giving up their plot. We will have plots in the fall to assign to permanent gardeners once we know for sure what is available and who is next in the queue for a permanent plot.
Are there any community events for garden members – potlucks, or other social gatherings?
Pre-pandemic time, we held group work parties with potlucks, bread oven workshops (limited group size), and bread oven baking. Members could bring their already prepared baking from home to be baked in the oven. There were also Garden Workshops which involved a “how to” component for planting or maintaining each type of plant. A couple of gardeners did a workshop in June (within Covid guidelines) called “Caring for Tomatoes”. It was a success! Many new gardeners appreciated the information and knowledge shared.
Is Your Stomach Rumbling?
If this post about the Queen’s Green Community Garden and its free Edible Sidewalk Garden has got your belly grumbling, make sure to check out the ultimate guide to Waterloo Region’s food trucks and plan a night out! There’s everything from Polish pierogi, Indian butter chicken, Brazilian pasteis, gourmet grilled cheese, delicious desserts, and more. Trust me, your tastebuds won’t regret it. Want a little extra preview? Check out the Travel with TMc Instagram stories for the 2021 and 2020’s food truck adventures!