Vegetables aren’t all that grow in Whitehorse’s community gardens

Social bonds, a sense of accomplishment and healing all spring from the soil

Groundshare participant Dianne Nolan shows off a previous season’s haul of carrots. (George Green/Submitted)

Groundshare participant Dianne Nolan shows off a previous season’s haul of carrots. (George Green/Submitted)

Whether through programs available for decades or through more freshly-sprouted initiatives, Whitehorse residents without yards and gardens of their own are finding ways to grow fresh produce.

Among the newer avenues for people to get themselves a garden plot is Groundshare, a program launched by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition (YAPC) in recent years. It is set up to match property owners who have surplus land or garden beds with people interested in growing their own food.

Dianne Nolan is one of the growers tilling a Groundshare plot this spring. She’s been at it for the past three years. She has access to some raised garden beds and says she tries to introduce something new to her harvest each year.

“I just keep going and going and going like, what else can I do? So last year was brussels sprouts. This year I’m going to try turnip,” Nolan said.

She also plans for a variety of vegetables, including cabbage, carrots, potatoes, kale, radishes, herbs, greens and more. Her favourite produce from the garden is her beets — both the deep purple roots and the greens that show above the ground.

“It’s very therapeutic for me. It’s my safe space. It’s my own personal healing working with the soil and nurturing my heart, my soul,” Nolan said of her time in the garden.

After nurturing the plants in the garden beds, she passes the care on to people around her, providing food to friends and family, including her four children and three grandchildren.

“It just makes me feel good that I’m helping them in that way. You know, some of my family don’t have a lot of space or don’t have any space, right? So they’re really grateful for what I bring in the fall and throughout the summer,” she said.

Among those providing space for Groundshare growers is Nancy Brady, who helps oversee the garden beds on the property of the Church of the Northern Apostles in Porter Creek. Some of those raised garden boxes have been provided to Groundshare in recent years, and Brady said the church was able to expand from six to 10 boxes this year with Groundshare’s help.

“It’s enhancing our building, I should add, to have things growing outside the church. It certainly adds to the attractiveness of things, so we’re quite happy with that, too,” Brady said.

“It is community outreach and attempting to, you know, help with food security for everybody in the community. We are lucky to have them make use of our boxes, and they end up with fresh and healthy vegetables that they’ve grown themselves, which must be satisfying.”

Along with helping make connections between growers and landowners, Groundshare helps provide new gardeners with the required knowledge.

Although she has multiple growing seasons under her belt now, Nolan said Groundshare organizer George Green still likes to be there when she plants and harvests, and he also checks in throughout the season.

Green said he provides technical support to the Groundshare growers as there are a lot of people who haven’t gardened before. He said there is also a small fund that helps Groundshare assist gardeners with startup costs like seeds, and they can also share and lend tools to people. Green added that the City of Whitehorse has been a major supporter of the project, providing compost.

Green said the program came about when YAPC began encountering people who were new arrivals in the territory, mostly young families, who were living in apartments or other accommodations without access to land but still wanted to grow their own food. Green, who has been a gardener for most of his life, also knew of seniors with nice plots of land that were not in use. He said he came up with four lots for the first year of the program, but it seems likely that there will be eight planted this year.

Funding for Groundshare comes from the typical non-profit source: Wherever it can be found. Green said money comes by way of Yukon government agricultural programs, food literacy grants through the government’s health and social services department, fundraisers and private donors, among other avenues. He said some federal funding was identified that might allow the program to continue to grow next year. Green can be contacted for more information about Groundshare by email at

Groundshare and other organizations that operate within the more traditional community garden model are meeting a need in the Yukon, where food insecurity brought on by the territory’s dependence on imports from Southern Canada is a well-documented issue.

Information provided through the Yukon Energy Food Security Network last year suggests that despite emergency support programs providing about 2,000 meals worth of food per day, another 5,000 meals were being missed by Whitehorse residents daily. Affordability, accessibility and quantity of food were listed among the reasons for the missed meals.

A 2022 paper published by the International Journal of Circumpolar Health cites data suggesting that the unpredictability of the Yukon food system results from social and economic pressures as well as the territory’s climate and remote location. This has led to a higher prevalence of food insecurity here in the territory than in other parts of Canada. The data puts food insecurity prevalence at 17 per cent in the Yukon compared to 8.3 per cent in the rest of the country. Limited local food production is identified as a factor in this.

Contributing to the production of food within Whitehorse’s city limits are the city’s community gardens. Among them is the one managed by the long-running Downtown Urban Garden Society (DUGS).

Randy Lamb, the president of DUGS’ board, said the society’s garden is made up of 75 raised garden beds that members can rent. It has proven very popular, with a wait-list for spaces already formed for this season. Along with the garden beds that members rent, Lamb said the DUGS garden sports berry and rhubarb bushes that the members work together to prune, fertilize and otherwise look after. This and other tasks are done during regularly scheduled “work bees” that Lamb said are often followed by information sharing workshops.

The DUGS gardeners contribute directly to helping those experiencing food insecurity by volunteering to grow extra rows and donating the produce to groups that help people in need. Lamb said that thanks to one volunteer, who showed exceptional diligence in the garden, DUGS was able to donate more than 1000 pounds of produce to Golden Age Society Yukon in both of the past two growing seasons. He said the beneficiary of the donated produce for this year hasn’t been selected yet.

Lamb said that along with the good produce that the DUGS gardeners get to pull from the earth for themselves and others, gardening provides exercise and social connections. He said there are tasks in the garden for all skill levels and physical abilities. DUGS can be reached by email at

This spring marks the beginning of the 26th growing season for DUGS.

A significantly newer garden is up and running in Whistle Bend after a tumultuous first few years. Melissa Traendlin, one of two directors of the Whistle Bend Garden Society, described how COVID-19 hit immediately after the garden got started on a one-acre plot. The pandemic limited the garden society’s initial plans for cooperation among members but raised beds were still planted by individual members. Traendlin said the garden was forced to relocate last year from the land it leased to accommodate the development of a women’s shelter.

Despite all the upheaval, it’s hoped that the new garden, located in an area with a lot more sun exposure than the previous site, will really get a chance to bloom in the coming years.

If more people get involved, Traendlin thinks the garden, made up of a dozen raised beds and a greenhouse, could be expanded by 50 per cent for next year. Exactly 12 people signed on to the garden this year. Along with members who directly till one of the beds, the Whistle Bend Garden Society also offers “community memberships” to people who want to support the garden. Traendlin said some produce and herbs from the greenhouse are usually made available to community members.

Traendlin also wants to see the Whistle Bend garden grow as a gathering place and community space with the addition of benches and tables so people can come and eat their lunch and meet their neighbours. She said this kind of free social space is in decline as the internet continues to sprawl into the de-facto place for socializing.

She said that she and the other society director, who have six children between them, also see the garden as an important place to teach their families about community and the importance of taking care of things as they grow.

The Whistle Bend Community Garden can be reached via its Facebook page or by email at

Contact Jim Elliot at


Greens growing in the Downtown Urban Garden Society garden in Whitehorse. (Submitted)

Greens growing in the Downtown Urban Garden Society garden in Whitehorse. (Submitted)

Cauliflower grown in one of the Groundshare plots. (Submitted)

Cauliflower grown in one of the Groundshare plots. (Submitted)