Vacant brownfield lot in Saskatoon to be transformed into community garden

A new community garden project in Saskatoon is proving vacant, derelict properties shouldn’t stop revitalization.

The Rotary Garden Collective is working to restore a plot of land on 19 St. W. and Ave. L, on the edge of the Riversdale neighbourhood, to lush, green space.

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“This is an inner-city site,” said Rotary Community Garden co-organizer Vivian Orr. “There is very little fresh food available here and we are hoping we can help remedy that to a certain extent.”

Like most community gardens, the project aims to increase food safety and security, however, nothing about this project is typical.

Of the more than 50 community gardens in Saskatoon, this is the first one located on a vacant brownfield site.

The space was once home to an Imperial Oil industrial lot, and now the soil is contaminated with hydrocarbons.

Planting food in the ground is considered unsafe.

Raised beds are used to grow food on the contaminated land.

“It means the initial startup is more expensive,” Orr said. “We actually have to build everything above ground, so we have sourced pallets and we are going to have garden boxes built.”

Orr adds, by planting in raised beds, the fact that it’s a brownfield site becomes a non-issue and there’s greater control over quality.

“The soil, the compost, the amendments that we put into it – we can actually have really rich soil perfect for growing,” she said.

The garden shares the lot with the Askîy Project – a youth internship program for urban agriculture supported by CHEP Good Food. It serves as way to improve food skills by teaching youth how to garden and grow their own food.

“We’re a social enterprise, so any of the food that we grow we are able to sell,” CHEP Askîy Project coordinator Zoe Arnold explained. “About half of it tends to go back into CHEP’s community food programs.”

The Askîy Project has more than 450 tubs to use this growing season.

The Askîy Project previously won a national award for positive use of brownfields.

“We’ve adopted the motto of ‘grow where you’ve never grown before’ for our project,” said Arnold. “Sort of speaks to not using this land typically for a garden.”

The project is in its fifth year and for the second season are able to utilize the lot. This year the group will have more than 450 tubs for growing.

The community garden will eventually hold 180 four-by-four plots, but it will likely be a few years before the space is filled.

Orr said planting will begin soon and hopes once the garden becomes more visible it’ll interest more people.

“We feel we need to set this up for success,” Orr said.  “We are going to chip away at it over the next few years – this is not a short-term project for us.”

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