Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Garden Turns 30!
The Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Garden (HSCG) celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Initiated by Jim Hollicky in 1989, the garden boasts 33 plots for residents in Hillhurst Sunnyside, and has served as a great connector of residents.
Garden Leader, Richard Smith and his partner Buff Smith have been involved with the garden for 12 years. They moved from Peace River — where they maintained a huge garden — to their home in Sunnyside — which has a small and shaded backyard — and sought a space to grow some veggies. Buff says, “We saw [the garden] and I asked about it (because I always chat people up). We thought it would take a while and just kept asking every two weeks until finally they were like ‘*sigh* okay here’. We were so lucky the way it all happened.”
Buff and Richard speak about the community and connection that makes the HSCG such an excellent tool for residents to engage with one another. Richard says the greatest reward has been the gardeners. He says, “[It’s a] great group of people. They really are excellent. And a number of them have become friends. People that you see on the street and chat with and talk about gardening and other stuff are the best part.”
Buff agrees, “Definitely the people [are the greatest reward] and the fact that you get to run over and pick fresh vegetables too.”
But the garden is not without its obstacles. Richard says routinely weather is the biggest challenge. He says, “Hailstorm in a garden and it looks like somebody put it through a shredder. It’s pretty disappointing.”
Another challenge, the duo says, can be gardeners with an agenda and who may not be so community minded. Richard says, “It’s the same in any group of people, 95% of them are willing to do their bit and volunteer and then there’s 5% who don’t and they can be a pain. There are obligations like coming to the spring clean up and fall clean up and some people just don’t and it’s frustrating. But as I say, it’s 5% of the time. A small minority.”
Buff believes this is “Only because it’s a community garden, so it’s not just about growing the produce it’s about growing the community. When there are people who only want to come and garden then that’s their expectation and that’s all they want to do, so you have to recognize that not everyone thinks community is important.”
The HSCG also produces a lot of compostable material and Richard mentioned that the City’s compost program has been a barrier for the garden financially. In order to eliminate their black cart, the garden took on two green carts, but this changed their status and the price per month skyrocketed. He says, “It cost us over $1100 to have two green carts. It’s $75 per month per cart because we’re classified as commercial. So that’s a challenge right now.
Our total revenues are only $1540 for the plots. And if we’re spending $1100 for compost we can’t do it. So I’m trying to get Waste and Recycling to classify us as residential.
I’m hearing from other community gardens that they’re not using the green carts, they’re doing something else, so there isn’t pressure right now from other community gardens.”
And what do they and HSCG gardeners hope for the next 30 years of gardening? Richard says, “We need more community gardens. There must be 60 people on the HSCG waitlist right now. And it’s at least a two year wait to get on a plot. There are 33 plots in our garden and there were 4 vacancies this year and that’s kind of typical. I think it was a similar case with the Kensington Community First Garden. I hear there’s some talk with Bow to Bluff and Sunnyside Shared garden and making that into an allotment garden.”
Community gardens are important for Hillhurst Sunnyside residents. Richard says, “It brings people together and helps to create community. And aligns with so many other things the community association does like drop in badminton, soccer, potluck nights and stuff. It brings people together. And gives them an opportunity to donate some produce to Fresh Food Basket. And there are people who share their gardens, or their skills and expertise to help others out.”
Buff says community gardens such as HSCG, “Allow people who live in the city and don’t have access to a plot to grow fresh food and feed their family better. And get back to the dirt. There are people who have never gardened before and they’re so intimidated and then when they get their first crops their so excited to be eating fresh stuff.”
We hope that HSCG enjoys another amazing 30 years (and more!) and that community gardens in our neighbourhood will continue to grow (pun intended) and flourish.
Written by Jessica Clark, Communications Manager