Vegetable gardens, a surprise guest + a science teacher to remind them where they got their start; a Saturday morning in Burlington.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  May 7, 2012  It’s the kind of thing that could probably only happen in Burlington.

Scott Stewart, the toughest guy there is at city hall, is serving as the Master of Ceremonies for the official opening of the Community Gardens tucked in behind the Seniors’ Centre and the Library at Central Park, is at the podium thanking everyone and pointing out various people in the audience he feels deserve recognition. He refers to Dave McKay by saying:  “Nice to see Mr. McKay, my high school science teacher here with us today.  You know, I can’t say “Dave, he was one of my high school teachers and to me he will always be Mr. McKay”

Hometown, home spun perhaps but it was a look at the city as it is.  The day was to recognize one of those events that happen because people do what has to be done to make a difference.  And for Michelle Bennett that difference was a program that will ideally result in community gardens elsewhere in the city and for Bennett a nomination as the Environmentalist of the Year.

Michelle Bennett was the key driving force behind the Community Garden project that had to go a couple of rounds with city committees before they got over that hurdle - Bennett was determined to make it happen - she succeeded.

It all came together when Michelle Bennett and Amy Schnurr were going over some literature about a provincial government program that was part solid idea and part pilot project.   It fit the BurlingtonGreen mandate like a glove but there was a hitch.  They had to have some real, cold hard cash participation from the city or from an organization that was on a par with the city.  The Region perhaps?

The two woman put together their application and got it off to Queen’s Park who got back to them saying they liked the idea but there was nothing about the city’s participation.  Burlington Green people have no problem delegating to city hall.  It didn’t go all that well during the first round.  Both woman brought more enthusiasm than solid business case to the city council committee but they were on to something and that was enough for Council to ask staff to take a look at it and see if they could make something of it.

Three of the four people who made the Community Garden project happen: General Manager Scott Stewart, BurlingtonGreen Executive Director Amy Schnurr and Rob Peachey, Manager Parks and Open Space for the city.

That put the BurlingtonGreen ladies into the hands of Rob Peachey, Manager Parks and Open Spaces, who found a way to come up with things the city could do that would amount to the 15% in cash or in kind the BurlingtonGreen people needed to get the provincial funding secured.  A location was chosen that worked for everyone.  It had a water line, it was steps away from the library where classes could be held, it was moments from the Seniors’ Centre where BurlingtonGreen hoped to entice some of the members.

The provincial funding was for a “teaching Pilot”; a program that would figure out the nuts and bolts of how to get a community garden up and running; what you had to do, what you shouldn’t do and where you go for help – that kind of thing.

With the garden lots steps away from the Library BurlingtonGreen expects to do some class work there.

How representative are the 29 people who got garden lots and who are these people anyway?

The politicians that smooth the rough spots to make things like community gardens happen were all out on Saturday.

Well, there are people from every ward in the city.  Burlingtonians got first dibs and given that there were 120 applications those who applied from Oakville are out of luck for the immediate future.

The grant from the province for a two year period was $74,650 total which goes to staff support, promotion, support of the Go Local Food Network, tools, events, plant material.  The garden construction was paid for by the city – their cash and in kind contribution was required if the grant was to be awarded to BurlingtonGreen.  It looks as if the city, that was originally a little skeptical about the project, came around quite quickly and was more than just a cheerleader on this project.

BurlingtonGreen didn’t track age information but they report there are certainly seniors involved in the gardens as well as young families and a youth group.  In a couple of instances there are groups of friends involved.  So there are certainly more than just 29 people working at garden lots in behind the library.

Great start to a project that will add several years to the lives of those Seniors who decide they want to get out into the sunshine and get some dirt underneath their finger nails.  The objective is to use this first site as a prototype for other.  Two years from now we should be seeing half a dozen community gardens around the city.  The finance people at city hall might want to make a note to add a bit to the 2014 budget for this kind of thing.

Interesting crowd on hand for the event.  Members of the Burlington Teen Tour Band were there to bring a little class to the event.  The Lady Jane McKenna, who represents Burlington in the provincial Legislature, was not in attendance – but then she wasn’t on the “official” guests list and for reasons which the city’s public affairs department wasn’t able to make clear to us – there is a protocol that dictates who gets to speak and who doesn’t – the rule is basically the person delivering the cheque gets to do the talking.  That may be a provincial government protocol but there is nothing saying Burlington has to adhere to such a silly rule.  Jane McKenna is our MPP – she should be invited.

We don’t know if it was the sign of decent weather coming along or an environmental event, but it brought out all kinds of people including Henry Schilthuis, the man who operates the contracting firm of Henry Schilthuis and Sons, that is in a law suit with the city.  Needless to say the Mayor and Henry did not exchange pleasantries.

Dave McKay, the man one of the city's General Managers still calls "Mr. McKay" and the guy that taught thousands in Burlington all the high school science they can remember, was on hand for the event.

Councillor Craven of Aldershot territory, some people call it ward 1, was on hand to get a look at how the gardens were set up and thinking that perhaps something like this could be done to make Francis Road the next possible community Garden site.

Local food security, which doesn’t get talked about nearly enough, was brought up..  The 29 gardens aren’t going to feed the city but hopefully we can begin to look at the part of the city north of Dundas as more than a place for the equestrian crowd and those that grow strawberries.  There is a very significant opportunity to develop a much bigger market gardening business in this city.

Mayor Goldring let us see how little he knew about farming but did mention that he spent some time on his grandparents farm in the Niagara Region.  And he did point out that there was a time when there were piers in Burlington that took away boat loads of fresh fruit from Burlington.  He added quickly that he was talking of other piers.


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2 comments to Vegetable gardens, a surprise guest + a science teacher to remind them where they got their start; a Saturday morning in Burlington.

  • Lawry Ellis

    Seeing this article reminded me I had not heard back from you on weather you wished to try again for the Rose Awards in your paper.
    I am willing to provide you a selection of photographs of some of the plaque winners after the judging so you do not have to do all the photo work…and you could cover the presentation ceremony in September….
    Would also like to see our Nomination form on your site…please call or email..thanks Lawry Ellis
    Yes Larry – we will put the nomination form up on the site. Last year, while you were in Europe vacationing, we were out taking pictures on a day when for the first time in my life I suffered heat stroke. That assignment didn’t get finished and we didn’t get to the winners announcement event either.
    We will try to do better by you this year.

  • Walter Mulkewich

    Its great to have community gardens in Burlington again – congratulations to all. The Parks & Rec people used to run community gardens for Burlington citizens in the 1970’s on MTO land on Brant Street where the Brant St QEW intersection is now. Now to encourage more Burlington residents to turn their front or back yards into gardens or to plant balcony gardens on apartment buildings.