Residents have called on the Saanich parks department to boost the priority of creating more community gardens in the district, and within its new master plan.
Saanich parks director Paul Henderson unveiled the municipality’s new parks, recreation and culture master plan in July, the first new overarching plan in 10 years.
The plan covers 29 key objectives – from managing and improving parks and trails, to updating community programs, to maintenance for recreation and seniors centres. It suggested that plots of land in existing parks might be suitable for local food production, or possibly municipally-owned boulevard land.
“Certainly (community gardens) are identified in the strategic plan. The long-term plan is to get at least one community garden in each local area,” Henderson said. “A key piece is having an organization take over a site for gardening once its established.”
Saanich has two large community gardens – Agnes Street and Capital City Allotment Gardens, both which were established decades ago and have wait lists.
A number of residents at the July meeting underscored the importance of gardening in terms of food security and keeping connected with the earth. Planting, weeding and getting your hands dirty is good for the soul, they said.
“I feel community gardens are an excellent asset to the community. They are good on many levels, it’s good for people to grow things in the dirt,” said Paul Whitworth, president of the Royal Oak Community Association. “We’ve got enough post-traumatic stress disorder in everyday life. Gardening makes you feel good.”
Carol Pickup, a former Saanich councillor, said community gardening feeds the social well-being of the community. Saanich needs to find space in dense urban areas, to allow apartment dwellers a chance to grow food, she told council.
“Community gardens give people the opportunity to get fresh air, to socialize and exercise, which is important especially for seniors,” Pickup said. “And a lot of community gardens give to food banks.”
“There is a lot of interest in community gardens,” agreed Coun. Vic Derman. “We might look for gardens in higher density neighbourhoods where there is no access to backyards, rather than in rural Saanich for example.”
Henderson indicated that Royal Oak is the closest to establishing a new community garden, although the municipality is open to looking at creating plots in existing parks and public land, as long as a community group takes responsibility.
“(Gardening) is certainly a passion people have,” Henderson said. “For us it’s a matter of balancing capacity. Parks gets 4,000 calls for service and 100 projects. We know there is interest in the community. It’s about finding the capacity to put it in place.”
The Parks, Recreation and Culture master plan will come back to council likely in September, and acts as a guide for specific planning for programs and projects. Council asked Henderson to restructure the report in a more reader friendly format.
Significantly, this master plan doesn’t recommend building any new recreation infrastructure or buying more parkland.
Henderson said the district needs to maintain what it has, although it assesses buying land as the opportunity arises. The district has 60 sports fields, 53 playgrounds, 50 pedestrian bridges and nearly 100 kilometres of trails to maintain, plus four recreation centres and Cedar Hill golf course.
“This plan recognizes we are in challenging economic times,” Henderson said. “And infrastructure is more than bricks and mortar, it’s trails, natural areas, parks and the whole package.”
Perhaps one of the more alarming statements amid the many key strategic objectives was to spin off Cedar Hill golf course as a municipal corporation or for “outright sale,” to help improve the imbalance in expenses and revenues for the parks department.
Henderson said those options fell out of consultant discussions with stakeholders during information gathering on the golf course, and isn’t an initiative of Saanich.
“The district has no interest, no thought of doing anything with the golf course other than getting it back to a sustainable operation,” he said.
See saanich.ca/parkrec/masterplan.html for the full version of the parks master plan.