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LETTER: Community gardens should be open for all

'Bureaucrats took over the garden to make it appear a certain way, all while marginalizing the very people who poured their hearts into it,' letter writer says
A sign in a community garden inviting children to eat the grown food.

OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected]. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is in response to 'LETTER: City parks should not be just for 'select groups'' published March 24. 

As a community gardener in Orillia since 2015, I have to say I couldn’t agree more with the letter writer concerned with community gardens restricting access for others.

This was the nature of our objections to Orillia’s community garden policy. We asked for a policy to support access, and instead, we ended up with a restrictive policy that makes an “in” group and everyone else becomes “out.”

Some of us refused this way of operating. The policy itself says that gardens are open to the whole community, but then contradicts this by requiring a specific “group.” We were assured this would be corrected. It wasn’t.

Hundreds of people who accessed the gardens were suddenly no longer included. The High Street community garden was a model for inclusivity. Literally, everyone was welcomed and encouraged to participate during group hours or on their own time. We were all humans sharing a park. Some ate the food, and some threw it at their friends, but it was a community, and we were welcome.

Then the pandemic came, and hierarchy took over, like the parasite that it is. Even people who gardened for years had their plants pulled up, and were denied food. Bureaucrats took over the garden to make it appear a certain way, all while marginalizing the very people who poured their hearts into it. Signs were erected directing us not to eat unless we formed part of a specific group. It didn’t even matter if we had planted the food ourselves. All that mattered was conformity.

I personally stopped participating at Lakehead when a waiver to grow food was required. I stopped gardening at High Street Community Garden due to personal trauma. When I returned after learning of children being denied food, I was called a liar for bringing attention to the ways people were being marginalized, and had my signs inviting people to eat removed by the city. I’d been making and putting signs in this garden since 2015. Suddenly, inviting people to eat doesn’t comply with the rules. 

All parks and gardens should remain open to the public. The land and food are for people. All people need food. All people need space to roam and play. If it’s in a park, expect children to pull things up and explore on their own time. Expect that those who are too afraid to ask will harvest when they are comfortable. If you don’t hold those values, what business do you have gardening in a public park?

Valerie Kitchen