Saanich is betting the farm that its first community garden in three decades will spur on similar projects across the district.
Dozens of supporters gathered last week for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Gorge Park Community Gardens, a labour of love for members of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, led by board member Gabe Epstein.
“This is the result of 10 years of ideas, discussion and planning,” said Epstein, standing on the 1600 square-metre site at the southeast end of Gorge Park.
Epstein, a retired elementary school teacher and driving force behind the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers, was joined by Saanich Coun. Paul Gerrard and GTCA president Rob Wickson, who said the two-year process working with Saanich Parks and council has been positive.
“We never had a barrier moving forward on these gardens,” Wickson said. “This now has so much potential to build community in the area.”
Once complete, about 60 plots will be available to various community groups and individual residents. (The wait list already includes close to 100 names.) Several elevated beds will create easier access for elderly gardeners and others with mobility problems, Epstein said. A public gathering area, children’s play space, seating and public pathways are also being installed.
(Photo inset: Songhees Nation representative Will George, left, Gorge Tillicum Community Association member Gabe Epstein, Saanich Coun. Paul Gerrard and Gorge Tillicum Community Association president Rob Wickson break the first soil at the new Gorge Park Community Gardens.)
“This is about food security, but it’s also about the community around the gardens,” Epstein said. “People wanted a welcoming space, and that’s what we’re going to create.”
Songhees Nation representative Will George offered blessings at the groundbreaking and exchanged gifts with supporters. The gardens received Mexican orca beans from Lifecycles Project Society, while George left with a Western trumpet honeysuckle.
“I think these projects should be going on everywhere,” George said.
A similar community garden project had been in the works behind Saanich Commonwealth Place, but was nixed after local residents failed to show support for the plan last fall.
Gorge-Tillicum residents, in contrast, showed strong support for the gardens, thanks in part to early outreach, said Gerrard, also chair of the Health Saanich advisory committee.
“This is a wonderful project. We want a community garden in every community in Saanich, if we can” he said.
Phase 1 of the project includes irrigation, fencing, a rain garden installation, a toolshed and pathways. Epstein anticipates a spring opening.
“We envision the space being used for community gatherings – live music, community dinners, as many collaborations as we can realize,” he said.