La Pointe Verte--the lone community garden in the borough--was founded in the 1980’s as a result of grassroots lobbying and has evolved over time into a combination of 52 garden plots and communal woodland. The garden sits adjacent to the railroad that bisects the borough and even served as a storage for industrial rail equipment that contaminated the soil. The soil contamination led to the temporary closure of the garden, which re-opened in 2008 when the borough decided to reduce costs by building the garden up rather than remediating the soil. Being the only community garden in the neighborhood, the waiting list for a plot can take two years or more. Per Quebec law, the garden is administered by an elected board consisting of a President, Vice President, and Treasurer who handle the roughly $1,000 budget collected from $20 member dues. Additionally, each gardener is responsible for caring for his or her plot and shares in maintaining the common areas by volunteering two hours each year.
La Pointe Verte is a highly valuable resource in a neighborhood that is disproportionately lacking in green space, especially when new gardens are hard to come by. The borough is also undergoing changes, as gentrification pushes lower income residents out of the neighborhood. The garden has thus far provided a space for cultural and social exchange between residents. While the future existence of the garden is not in question, one does not need to walk far from La Pointe Verte to see the writing on the wall for many of the borough’s lower income residents. There are signs of social struggle evident just a short walk from the garden space.
According to Centraide and Statistics Canada, 37% of the population of Pointe-Saint-Charles is low income, and over 20% of the residents are immigrants. Although the community garden does not keep formal records on the demographics of the gardeners, according to Michael Hind approximately one third of the gardeners are East Asian immigrants (Allophone), primarily from Bangladesh. Of the remaining gardeners, about half are Francophone and half are Anglophone. Many of the immigrant families that work in the garden grow crops that are difficult to obtain in the neighborhood, including staples such as amaranth and bitter melon. Thus, the garden provides immigrants with access to both affordable healthy food and culturally important staples.
The garden has also played a role in helping new immigrants integrate into the community. For many of the immigrant gardeners (who are primarily female), the garden provides a space for building or broadening their networks, and offers a place for their children to play outside and make friends. As such, the community garden plays a critical role in connecting new immigrants with valuable resources and a friendly community that helps to engage them with the neighborhood and its resources.
While the garden has created a space and community in which food and knowledge is exchanged and food access is improved, there are also significant challenges. Communicating amongst three primary language groups can present the President and the garden’s Executive Committee with unique challenges. Theft and vandalism are consistent concerns, and the funds for big projects—such as much needed fence repairs—are difficult to come by. Furthermore, the bureaucratic process required in order to make changes to the garden, such as repurposing an unused flower bed in the garden’s common space into an edible mushroom garden, are often time consuming and difficult. While it is at times hard work, the garden has provided an invaluable green space for social exchange and meaningful activities in the neighborhood.
Click here for a video of the interview with the community garden's president!
-Adam and Gwyneth