Community gardening for all: What’s on your plate? 



In 2017, Ottawa celebrated 20 years of community gardening. Although community gardens started to develop in the 1980s, it was only in 1997 that the Community Gardening Network of Ottawa was officially created. Today, some 80 gardens can be found throughout the city, and Old Ottawa East has become the host to three of them over the past few years. 

Different types of gardens exist, and in Ottawa, the most common is what we call the “community garden”; individuals are allocated their own plot, which they can plant and harvest at their leisure. They must also contribute to overall maintenance of the garden, as directed by the garden’s rules. Other models include “communal gardens”, where people typically plant, maintain and harvest in a collaborative manner, often to the benefit of community groups or individuals who don’t actively participate in the garden’s activities, and “mixed gardens”, combining individual plots and a communal portion.  

The Old Ottawa East Community Garden is a good example of a mixed garden as it features individual plots, a space reserved for the Urban Café located inside St. Paul University and an allotment helping the Centretown Emergency Food Centre which benefits from 800 pounds of fresh produce every year thanks to local gardeners and students who volunteer to maintain and harvest the allotment. On the other hand, the Children’s Garden is of the communal garden type and acts as an educational tool for children, camps and other groups. 

What’s the point? 

No matter what name you give them, gardens play several roles. We tend to see them as places for gardeners to socialize – which is important as it helps break down barriers of all types – but there is more to it. Food security comes to mind. “Many of us are committed urban farmers and food security activists and grow our own produce as a matter of course”, says Annette Hegel, co-coordinator of the Old Ottawa East Community Garden. In its Nutritious Food Basket 2017 survey, Ottawa Public Health estimated that on average, a family of four needs $873 per month to feed itself appropriately. Once all the other bills are paid, the food bill can be out of reach for many people, so growing food becomes a good way of eating healthy food without breaking the bank. 

Another benefit of gardening is food literacy. Activities such as the Children’s Garden have been proven to encourage a higher consumption of produce within the younger population. For example, a 2015 Cornell University study showed that children were four times more likely to eat a school salad if the vegetables came from their school garden.  

Sue McKee of the Old Ottawa East Children’s Garden confirms there are many benefits to gardening initiatives. “Children can learn through hands-on, experiential learning the joy and importance of growing their own food. They watch the seeds they plant germinate and grow. They care for the garden, do crafts and science about the garden, and have fun doing it. They learn about composting, weeds, food plants, ripeness, healthy eating, the importance of water to food, and much more”. 

Many Ottawa gardens have long waiting lists to access a plot. Why not start a new garden for your community? The Community Gardening Network (CGN) has many tools to support you, including funding.  Here’s how to get started: 

  1. Explore the CGN page on and contact its coordinator. 
  1. Find community members to help you develop the project. 
  1. Speak to your local community association to find out if other people are considering a similar project and to get their support. 
  1. Identify potential sites that could host your garden. 
  1. Attend one of CGN’s ‘How to Start a Community Garden’ workshops for a full run down on what to consider, how to do it and how to submit a funding proposal.  






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Filed in: Community Groups, Front Page

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