Online petition looking to plant new seeds of community gardening in Sherbrooke

By Gordon Lambie

On April 2 the city council in Victoria, B.C. passed a motion assigning parks department staff to the task of creating food gardens in public spaces, drawing inspiration from similar efforts during the great depression and Second World War. Hearing that news, Sherbrooke resident Heather Davis said that she felt called to spread the idea further and, after a conversation about the idea with her friend Maxime Lévesque, started a petition which now has over 700 signatures.
Entitled “Potagers publics pour nourrir Sherbrooke / Public gardens to feed Sherbrooke,” the petition outlines a desire to refocus municipal garden beds and green space toward food production in consultation with experts and with an eye toward community-building and public education.
“We ask that the City of Sherbrooke redirect some of its public land and human resources (from landscaping) towards creating public gardens. When health authorities declare that it is safe, volunteers can contribute to the upkeep,” it reads. “We believe that a project like this will inspire other municipalities across the MRCs. Moreover, these initiatives have the potential to move us towards a national agenda around food sovereignty, to prioritize local production over free trade agreements that put our skilled farmers to work instead of competing against the whole world.”
In the text of the petition, Davis and Lévesque define the idea of food sovereignty as the ability to capacity to feed citizens regardless of the economic climate outside a region or country’s borders in the long-term, but Davis said that she also sees value in idea’s symbolic and psychological potential. Given gardening’s known benefits to mental health and community morale, she suggested that building park gardening off the foundation of a higher-than-usual interest in home gardening among people who find themselves isolated this spring, could make the difference between a short-term hobby project and a more lasting movement.
“People get fearful when there is scarcity,” she said, arguing that working together in a garden environment, once distancing rules are relaxed or organized to allow for it, could have a net benefit to the spirit of wellbeing in the surrounding area.
“We want to make food sovereignty the theme of the year 2020,” she added, noting with excitement that the petition has proven to be much more popular than she was originally expecting. As of this writing the document, hosted on has surpassed 770 signatures.
Although the petition has yet to be presented to the council, Davis said she was interested to discover that du Carrefour District councillor Evelyne Beaudin has shared it through her Facebook page. Reached for her thoughts on the initiative, Beaudin said that she thinks the idea is something that should be supported.
“It is an idea that had already come up recently in the des Nations borough,” the councillor said, explaining that although the city has established rules about the use of park space for gardening, she thinks there is value in the community-building aspect of the idea.
While clarifying that she could see how converting park space to public gardens might be problematic if applied without any kind of structure, within the right framework she said it seems like an idea worth exploring.
“Particularly in a quarter where there is a high population density and people do not have access to much land, this could have a big potential,” she said, suggesting that sometimes the city is too nervous about negative consequences to think about what could happen if the existing rules are relaxed or adjusted.
Asked about the regulations related to the idea of public gardening, Nancy Corriveau from the city’s communications department pointed out that Sherbrooke currently has eight community gardens and said that there is a process currently underway to evaluate how they can be opened this year. Since that conversation is currently ongoing it is not yet possible for the city to say more at this point.
Although the petition outlines clear objectives, Davis told The Record that she is not tied to one solid vision and could compromise if it meant that the city was open to exploring the idea in some way. Ideally, she said she would like to see food gardens planted in the coming weeks in some of the city’s parks and spaces normally committed to ornamental gardens, but also expressed willingness to explore other ideas if it meant there was an active conversation taking place.
“Even symbolic acts can have big impacts,” she said, “but you need a spark to start a fire.

Published in the Thursday, April 23 edition of The Record.

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