Urban gardeners aim to feed the city

In cities all around the world, urban agriculture is growing in scale and popularity and Yukon community organizations are keeping up with this trend.

Miche Genest

Special to the News

In cities all around the world, urban agriculture is growing in scale and popularity and Yukon community organizations are keeping up with this trend.

In addition to rural farming, Yukoners are busy growing food in our towns and communities. As a result, community gardens are recognized in the territory’s local food strategy for their contributions to local food security.

In the spring of 2016, community gardeners from across the Yukon assembled in the meeting room at the seniors’ residence on College Drive in Whitehorse. They had come for the third annual Community Gardener Gathering, hosted by the Arctic Institute of Community-based Research, providing an opportunity to discuss the challenges and solutions common to northern community gardens.

There were representatives from several First Nations, seniors were there in force, as was a resident of Whistle Bend who wanted to start a garden in his raw and un-greened subdivision. There was a representative from the Whitehorse Food Bank, plus master gardeners, greenhouse builders, first-time gardeners, teachers, mentors and students.

Garret Gillespie finished his talk on municipal de-centralized composting and the roomful of 60 or more people broke into discussion groups. “Worms!” cried a woman from the community garden in Teslin. “Try worms. We love them.” Such are the topics on the table when community garden enthusiasts share their stories and expertise.

Community gardens in the territory range from neighbourhood greenhouses to not-for-profit operations to long-established ventures such as the Little Salmon and Carmacks greenhouse, which has more than 10 years in operation. The term “community garden” doesn’t fully capture the diversity of these projects, but they all have one thing in common: the work benefits the whole community.

The benefits go beyond access to fresh, local produce. Community gardeners talk about health and wellness, about regaining a connection to the land, about the value of teaching kids and young people to love vegetables, about healing, and about the pleasure of being able to distribute food to those in need.

* * *

The Whitehorse community garden spreads out on bumpy ground near the bottom of the clay cliffs at the north end of town. Here, as well as growing organic vegetables for their own tables, the gardeners grow 500 pounds of fresh produce each year for the Whitehorse Food Bank through the Plant a Row, Grow a Row program, a national initiative designed to feed people in their own communities.

Kathryn MacDonald has been coordinator of the garden since 2004. She says providing food for the food bank is “the community part that our gardeners like a lot.” The gardeners always try to exceed their goal. Work bees are on Wednesdays, and food is delivered on Thursday mornings, washed and bagged in family-sized portions. Wykes Your Independent Grocer donates the bags. “They are really great at helping out,” says MacDonald.

The Downtown Urban Gardeners Society (DUGS) was started by Whitehorse residents Joan and Doug Craig in 1997 and incorporated that year. The first gardens were planted in 1998 and today there are about 70 raised beds in the north and south gardens and there’s a year-long waiting list for a bed. Gardeners come from all over the city. There are office workers who garden on their lunch hour “working out the stresses of the day,” there are condo and apartment dwellers, there are property owners who could garden at home but who like the social aspect of gardening here.

Communal tools are stored in a shed. There is a greenhouse, there are berry bushes and rhubarb plants scattered throughout the garden and around the perimeter. Outside the fence the gardeners have planted raspberries and Saskatoon berry bushes for people in the neighbourhood, both as a friendly offering and a deterrent against garden raids.

On any given evening you’ll find a quiet scene of raking, watering, weeding and digging in this peaceful corner of the city, where outfitter Charlie Baxter once grew hay and kept horses at the turn of the century, and where a ramshackle community of so-called squatters thrived from the 1940s to the 1970s, until the city expropriated the land because the cliffs were liable to slump. Now, a different kind of community has taken hold.

* * *

A few blocks south and west, the Whitehorse Food Bank sits amid a sea of asphalt on a corner where there’s hardly a tree in sight. But just down the street is an assisted living building for seniors, which houses a lot of people interested in gardening, exercise, and community involvement. Food Bank executive director Tristan Newsome says that interest from volunteers and from local seniors — many of them food bank clients — inspired the food bank to apply for a federal New Horizons grant to transform the parking lot into a community garden. The yield will eventually stock the shelves with fresh produce.

In May 2016 the lumber was purchased and ready to be transformed into raised beds, a greenhouse and a shed by members of the Challenge program, which provides work opportunities for people with disabilities. But fence construction, by a private contractor, was delayed and the project was late getting started. Newsome hoped the entire facility would be ready in time to plant some leafy greens, a popular item at the food bank.

Despite donations from the Whitehorse community garden and other sources, greens can be scarce. “The way the food bank works, clients can come once a calendar month,” says Newsome. “We see a vast influx at the beginning of the month, because people come as soon as they can.” That’s when the greens run out. Newsome hopes the food bank garden will help to fill the gap.

There are plans afoot to get seniors involved in making a recipe booklet featuring less familiar greens like kale. “A lot of people see kale and they don’t really know what to do with it. But they’re open, because why not? It’s there, it’s free, it’s nutrition,” says Newsome. Eventually there will be about 14 raised beds filled with vegetables in the empty parking lot, greening the city and people’s plates, and bringing community members together in the common endeavour of growing healthy local food.

This article is part of a series commissioned by the Yukon Agricultural Association and funded by Growing Forward 2, an initiative of the governments of Canada and Yukon.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Zhùr, the ancient wolf pup found mummified in permafrost at Last Chance Creek mine in July 2016. (Government of Yukon/Submitted)
‘Mummy’ wolf pup unearthed in permafrost paints a picture of ice age ancestors

Zhùr is the best preserved and most complete mummy of an ancient wolf found to date.

Former premier Tony Penikett begins a presentation at the Whitehorse Public Library about his book, Hunting the Northern Character, on Dec. 11, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Former premier named to Order of Canada

Tony Penikett reflects on career

Ed Hopkins starts the 36-mile race at the Carbon Hill Race Day on Jan. 10. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Dogs take over Mount Lorne for Carbon Hill Race Day

The Dog Powered Sports Association of the Yukon (DPSAY) hosted its annual… Continue reading

As it gets set to turn over ownership of its supportive housing building downtown to Yukon Housing, Options For Independence will not be required to pay back more than $65,000 in City of Whitehorse grants it was provided towards property taxes, decided city councillors on Jan. 11. (John Hopkins-HIll/Yukon News file)
Exemption granted for building transfer

Options For Independence won’t be required to pay back city grants

Mayor Dan Curtis speaks during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on March 9, 2020. Whitehorse property owners can expect their 2021 property tax bills to rise by less than a per cent if the operating budget for the year is adopted as proposed. “A minimal tax increase allows the city to maintain its many existing services and programs, while also supporting important initiatives such as climate change mitigation and enhanced bylaw enforcement,” Curtis said. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Minimal increase proposed for Whitehorse property taxes

Budget would see 0.34 per cent tax increase

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Mayo-Tatchun MLA Don Hutton won’t be runing for re-election. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mayo-Tatchun MLA won’t run for re-election

Liberal MLA Don Hutton won’t be running for re-election. A former wildland… Continue reading

Large quantities of a substance believed to be cocaine, a large amount of cash, several cells phones and a vehicle were all seized after RCMP searched a Whistle Bend home on Jan. 6. (Photo courtesy RCMP)
Seven arrested after drug trafficking search

RCMP seized drugs, money from Whistle Bend residence on Jan. 6

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Whitehorse RCMP are seeing a growing trend of vehicle break-and-enters in the Kopper King area. (Black Press file)
Series of break-and-enters in Kopper King area

Series of break-and-enters in Kopper King area Whitehorse RCMP are seeing a… Continue reading

Signage near the newly opened Dawson City ice bridge. (Sandy Silver/Facebook)
Dawson City ice bridge opens

The Dawson ice bridge has opened. In a Jan. 6 social media… Continue reading

Whitehorse RCMP are requesting assistance identifying three suspects who stole tens of thousands of dollars of property from Cobalt Construction on the evenings of Dec. 28, 29, and 30. They were operating a stolen Toyota Camry, which was beige in colour with the license plate HML66. (Photo courtesy RCMP)
RCMP seeking three suspects after burglary

Whitehorse RCMP are requesting assistance identifying three suspects who stole tens of… Continue reading

Most Read