I joined the new Toastmasters group that has started at my office and the topic of my first speech was “Community Gardening”.  Since I’m making strides to overcome my fear of failure in terms of public speaking, I thought it would be a good idea to bridge over to the blog, which has also suffered from my fear of failure in the public eye.  Here is my speech from April 3rd, 2008.

Community Gardening

Gardening is something that I’ve been doing my entire life.  You could say it’s a family tradition, with my grandfather teaching my mom, who in turn taught me.  But when I moved from my small hometown to the city of Toronto almost three years ago, I was sure my gardening would be relegated to a few withering plants on a balcony until I could afford a house with enough of a yard to have my own large vegetable garden, which I knew was still many years off.  Little did I know that there is an increasingly popular phenomenon growing in small corners of parks in cities around the world, including Toronto, called “community gardens”.

Madam Toastmaster, fellow members and guests, the summer of 2007 was my first year with a community garden plot, and there are lots of things that I’m still learning, so instead of telling you about my garden specifically, I’d like to tell you about all the benefits of community gardening I’ve seen and heard about through the gardeners I’ve met in and around Toronto.

Before I go into the benefits, I’d like to take a moment to tell you about what a community garden is.  Usually, these gardens are founded in underused city parks, although they also occasionally pop up in abandoned lots or hydro fields.  In Toronto, there are allotment gardens run by the city, where the parks department gives out permits – for a fee – that allow a gardener to use a small piece of land from May until October to grow vegetables and flowers.  My garden last year was of this type – I had a 20 foot by 30 foot plot in a hydro field beside a rowdy flea market.  But increasingly, community and neighbourhood groups are establishing gardens where everyone works together on the same plot of land, and the harvest is either split amongst the members or donated to a community soup kitchen or food bank.  There are also gardens that combine these two ideas, with areas tended to by the group, and private plots that belong to only one member, all within the same garden.

The term “community garden” is made up, of course, of the words “community” and “garden” and these clearly lay out the two ways I think this movement is making a difference in neighbourhoods throughout the city.

From the description I just gave you of what a community garden looks like, you can probably put together for yourselves what a lot of the benefits to the community are.  First and foremost, a community garden brings neighbours together in a common area.  It is becoming increasingly common in our society to put up fences and stay within our homes and not talk to anyone on the street or in the park.  In these garden spaces, people come together to teach each other and get to know each other in a way that otherwise they would not have done.  Also, neighbourhoods that have put a garden in one of their parks have found that the increased community presence there reduces the amount of vandalism and crime, simply because there are more people in the area more often.  So these gardens really do benefit and bring together the community.

Then you may ask yourselves, “why a garden?  Aren’t there other ways to bring a community together that don’t involve getting our hands dirty?”  I’m sure there are many other ways to build community, including sports teams and block parties and many other great ideas.  But I believe that these gardens can teach us things that a sports team never could.  I was amazed when I moved to the city to learn that there are kids who live here who have never been to a farm, or even a farmer’s market.  If you ask them where their food comes from, they’ll tell you, simply, “it comes from the store”.  The primary thing that we can all learn from gardening is exactly what it takes to feed our communities.  I’ve been vegetable gardening for my whole life and it has grown in me an appreciation for how challenging it must be to farm on a large scale – a small 600 square foot lot was too much for me to care for on my own; I can’t imagine what 600 acres would be like!  Many of the community gardens in Toronto also advocate organic principles and do not allow chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  In these times of increasing paranoia about pollution and climate change, these gardens often show alternative ways of growing our food that do not cause the same environmental degradation as conventional farming.  Although a few little plots of dirt in a city park may not look like they’re making a difference, I believe they can plant enough seeds of knowledge about some of the issues we face today and some of the solutions to these issues that they really can bring about positive change.

So next time you’re walking your dog through your neighbourhood park, take a close look around, and you may see, in a small, unobtrusive corner, a plot of land growing a few tomatoes and flowers.  Take a closer look, because what you are looking at is more than just a few little plants – it is community and it may be a step towards a better future.

            Madam Toastmaster


By the way… the speech went great.  🙂