Tomatoes, snow peas & civic spirit

Public gardens let Kingstonians grow their own food and communities

The Sunnyside Garden on MacDonnell Street is managed by OPIRG Kingston.
The Sunnyside Garden on MacDonnell Street is managed by OPIRG Kingston.

Four years ago, Carone Beaucage moved into a new home looking onto an empty lot across the street—a site used for garbage dumping and late night brawls. That empty lot is now one of several blossoming community gardens in Kingston.

Community gardens are pieces of public land that give community members a chance to grow food on their own plot for a minimal fee.

There are eight community garden projects working independently of each other in the Kingston area.

Downtown, there are two groups who provide urban residents with a chance to get their hands dirty and to eat fresh, local food while they’re at it.

Beaucage started FRILL, which stands for “Friends Revitalizing Industrial Land Lovingly.” After learning the vacant lot was owned by a land-holding company for Loblaws, she got a one-year permit to start a garden there with the Grade 2 class she taught at the Mulberry School.

The garden is located at Charles and Bagot Streets, near the downtown No Frills store.

The second year, Beaucage was interested in opening up the garden to the wider community, and held a meeting at which Wendy Perkins was the only attendee.

That year, Beaucage and Perkins hosted a May Day celebration to stir up interest—and it did. Since then, the plots have been distributed through a lottery because there are more willing gardeners than plots.

Membership at the FRILL garden is $40 per season, $20 of which is reimbursed if members clean up their plot at the end of the year. Though the garden has faced challenges, including problems with inadequate watering resources and the uncertainty of working on a one-year lease, the garden continues to yield vegetables, flowers, herbs and friendships.

Perkins said one of the best parts of working with the garden is its community aspect.

“I’ve met some fantastic friends through gardening that I would never have met. You meet people from all walks of life,” she said. “There’s quite a diversity in terms of people that garden there. Folks that have a double income and no kids to folks that are really living quite challenging lives ... financially. It’s very varied.”

Most FRILL members are neighbourhood residents, something the organizers had hoped for.

“Carone can look out her window now and she doesn’t see people fighting, she doesn’t see garbage thrown around, she sees people working in the garden and strangers talking to each other,” Perkins said. “A garden can bring strangers together. It can bring a connection, friendship and support.” Sunnyside Garden is on MacDonnell Street, near Brock Street, and is one of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) Kingston’s working groups.

After three years spent planning and searching for a site, the garden found its location on a piece of property belonging to Utilities Kingston.

“The site we have is great. It’s very well lit, and we’re in the perfect location,” said Mike Payne, one of Sunnyside’s organizers. “[Utilities Kingston] is also really excited about the project. They’ve seen the project as beautifying public space.” Though they’ve found a spot now, Payne said during the three years of preparation the garden’s association with OPIRG was especially beneficial.

“They’re experienced in networking and running meetings and putting people together,” he said. “It’s a really political process getting the garden together in the first place, working with people in the City and working hard at keeping up our momentum.”

Membership costs $10 for the season, and requires a commitment of five hours of community work in the garden over the course of the season.

Sunnyside began with 16 plots that were 12 feet long by six feet wide, but so many gardeners were interested that each plot was cut in half, Thirty-two plots are now available.

“We were walking a line between people wanting bigger beds but they also wanted to include more gardeners,” Payne said. “Part of our dreams include more gardens.”

In addition to individual plots, Sunnyside has a communal bed, where all of the garden’s members and community members at large can work—and from which anyone, including the general public, can harvest.

F.R.I.L.L. Community Garden: Carone Beaucage—613-549-4419

Sunnyside Garden: OPIRG Kingston—613-533-3189

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