Downtown Urban Gardeners’ Society put down roots nearly two decades ago

Randy Lamb 2016 will be the 19th growing season for the Whitehorse community garden, and the 20th year of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition (YAPC) as a registered society. My how we've grown! Those who may not be familiar with the origins of the community

COMMENTARY

by Randy Lamb

2016 will be the 19th growing season for the Whitehorse community garden, and the 20th year of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition (YAPC) as a registered society. My how we’ve grown!

Those who may not be familiar with the origins of the community garden operated by the Downtown Urban Gardeners’ Society will appreciate this short history of “DUGS” and our connections to the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition.

1997 was the year when the idea for a Whitehorse community garden was conceived. Although many homes have some space in the yard and some means to start a garden, people living in rental units or lower-income situations may not have the freedom or means to garden. A community garden serves to provide some of the freedom and means to produce their own food.

The first steps toward forming a community garden in downtown Whitehorse came out of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition. Several members of YAPC called together a meeting for all people interested in community gardening. Advertising was done via paper notices at local businesses and around town.

Food security has always been an important issue in northern communities. Although our dependence on trucked-in food is taken for granted by many, the impact of the Alaska Highway being closed due to a culvert washout in recent years was a vivid reminder of how vulnerable we actually are.

The first group behind creating the community garden was composed of gardeners, non-gardeners, downtown and rural residents and community activists. Some of the first decisions during 1997 were to incorporate the group into a legal society under the Yukon Societies Act, and to establish a board of directors as a democratic way for the group to make decisions and be accountable to the public for using public goods and funds. The organization name of Downtown Urban Gardeners’ Society (DUGS) was adopted.

The written statement of purposes of DUGS as originally submitted is sevenfold as follows:

* The provision of an accessible space within the downtown core of Whitehorse, Yukon, in which community members can grow their own food;

* The production of organic, nutritious and affordable food in a northern environment;

* The provision of opportunities for exercise, therapy, education and friendship;

* The strengthening of a sense of community;

* The beautification of the neighbourhood;

* The provision of long-term food security for the community; and

* The regeneration of the lost art of self-sufficiency through food cultivation.

In March 1998, there was a community meeting for everyone interested in obtaining a gardening space or interested in helping out. That spring the first garden beds were constructed and planted.

The Whitehorse community garden is composed of a 0.3 hectare lease encompassing a group of city lots through a long-term lease from the City of

Whitehorse. These lots are near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Ray Street in downtown Whitehorse under the backdrop of the clay cliffs above. To find us quickly just head west on Ogilvie Street, turn right on Seventh Avenue and then head north for a few hundred metres.

Through the years, the gardens have continued to grow with the help of dedicated volunteers, donations and grant sources. The Whitehorse community garden is comprised of a large “North Garden” and the southern “Craig Family Garden” which was dedicated to the years of support to the gardens by Joan and Doug Craig.

The garden has over 65 raised garden plots which are used by the 70+ members of the Downtown Urban Gardeners Society. Our annual membership fee still remains at $20 a year, which covers most of our annual operating costs. We still openly welcome donations of manure, compost and planting supplies.

As a registered society, the Downtown Urban Gardeners Society maintains a volunteer board of directors to oversee the community garden development and management, and offer membership to people who would like to garden at the site. The core focus remains on food security, organic gardening principles and improved nutrition while encouraging all members of the community to take part in gardening as a recreational and social activity.

The nationally based “Plant-a-Row, Grow-a-Row” food security program has been supported for many years by DUGS and the gardeners at the Whitehorse community garden. Each year gardeners mark rows within their garden beds so that volunteers can come out on weekly Wednesday evening work-bees to collect the fresh produce to deliver to the Whitehorse Food Bank the following morning. In 2015, community garden members harvested and delivered 627 pounds of fresh produce to the food bank during May through September.

Members of the public and other non-profit organizations are welcome to sign-up for a garden bed each year or to volunteer at the gardens. Our annual garden bed sign-up event has already taken place for 2016, but those who are interested should watch for updates and postings of coming events on our web page which can be viewed at dugsyukon.blogspot.ca .

Stop by this summer and see how much we have grown!

An avid gardener, Randy has been the Chair of the Downtown Urban Garden Society for over a decade. He is an instructor of the Yukon Master Gardener program at Yukon College.

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