Visiting community gardens

One of the many types of UA I am surveying is the community garden. In Montreal there are 97 such garden spaces which are mediated by the city. That is, the city gives the land, water, tools, fences, and in some cases an “animateur horticole”. Within each garden, each gardener gets their own plot to manage (sometimes only half a plot in certain gardens as citizen demand is so high).

pictures of three different community gardens
pictures of three different community gardens

IMG_3460  There are about 8 500 plots in the Montreal municipality (and there are usually one or two gardens with many plots in the independent cities on the island as well). I don’t have the resources to sample them all, but I wanted to include these important features of UA in my study. In order to get a little geographic distribution and some of the variety of management practices, I set out to visit 10 gardens in 10 different boroughs (arrondisements) and interview 3 gardeners per gardens.

As I have discussed in earlier posts, I have had to stray from my original design a little, including the community gardens. Because each garden is fenced and remains locked even when people are in it, we really need an initial contact in each garden to let us in and also give us some legitimacy. In April we tried to do this through the City and attending the beginning of the season meetings, but this only worked in one borough. We took advantage of it, and ended up doing 3 gardens in the borough. In other cases, we were able to eventually get into contact with garden presidents, but in a few boroughs, we were never able to get in touch with someone, or were flat-out refused.

Thankfully one of my collaborators is also doing work in community gardens so I was able “skip” some boroughs she was doing as she will fill out the survey with the gardeners she works with. Freeing up a little time to concentrate of the areas where contacts has been more difficult to find.

Last week, I completed the survey in three community gardens (and one survey with a collective garden who’s plot was in a community garden and one institutional garden). Overall, although it’s a bit stressful to initiate the survey with people you don’t know in community gardens, people have been very gracious (sometimes eccentric) and excited to tell us all about their garden. The surveys sometimes take much longer than they should as people like to tell stories about their garden (it varies between 10 minutes and an hour).  Sometimes it’s hard to get the information we need, especially with 1st time gardeners who are not organized. But other times, it’s amazingly easy to gather the information. For example, I met a man who has been at the garden since 1982 and so he knew his stuff!

I am still missing four boroughs and some of the community gardens I contacted in the independent cities. My assistant and I will continue to try to find contacts.

In other interesting news, Dr.Chris Buddle, a professor a McGill who has a great blog and is very active on twitter, shared a great link to an article on some art-science collaborations I was not aware of. I also discovered this great blog called the nature of cities about urban ecology through this very nice post that is accessible and does a great job summarizing the literature and motivations behind the theories a lot of us use (ok well me at least) when working on cities and socio-ecological systems in general through great examples from NYC issues and student class projects.


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