Urban agriculture


"Boulevard of broken greens": follow-up brings hope on veggie garden saga

Sometimes the way things work at City Hall can be a crushing blow to positive growth in community activity. That’s been seen time and time again in the food movement.

Navigating the City’s web of by-laws leftover from an unpopular amalgamation has got everything muddled. That includes at least one family in Toronto with a vegetable garden on their boulevard that – as reported twice by The Star – has been ordered removed by the City.

A garden doesn’t seem like a big threat. Many have pegged this one on bureaucrats with too little to do. And while one part of City staff is working to develop a solid Food Strategy, it’s sad to see something like this happen, as momentum builds for urban agriculture in Toronto. The Food Strategy was supposed to have directed the City Manager to bring food thinking into the planning of all staff divisions.

But here’s some more info to bring some hope.

Why did this happen?

Of the six old municipalities that make up Toronto, only one – York – technically allows vegetable gardens on boulevards. This is because their by-law, which is still used, recognizes the allowance of “other plants”. Native gardening is allowed all throughout the City, but only because a court case determined that they should be allowed – another battle of days ago.

Food gardens are basically disallowed in these spaces because they are not noted in the by-law as being authorized – this means they are prohibited. Boulevards are City property.

The family with that garden has an option for now – they can secure what’s called an “encroachment allowance” with the City. That is, work with staff and get something an agreement approved. Such an agreement may through fairly easily, especially with the public pressure in the case. But no one wants to go through City Hall every time they want to start a garden.

The garden was spotted as part of an application to the City to extend building on the family's private property. I am told by city staff that they don’t go out looking for gardens and are in no way opposed to them, but they saw this in their work and had to enforce the by-law.

Good news?

It is good that many people wrote to staff on this issue. At some point in time (before or after this issue), they noticed and decided to act. In the process of harmonizing all the old by-laws relating to streets, staff in 2011 will be recommending a change in rules to allow vegetable gardens. The only caveats will include a reasonable height so they don’t obstruct the road (currently it’s 0.8m for boulevard plants) and that these gardens be maintained. The other note is that Public Health staff are looking into if there are areas that gardens should not exist, such as some arterials where the salt and road chemicals would make them bad ideas.

Get Involved

I’m told there will be many opportunities for public input into the by-law changes before anything is passed at Council. That means public consultations held by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee and by Community Councils in 2011. We get to look through this stuff and raise a fuss if it’s not as good as promised - then encourage our Council to pass it. We need a City that let’s us do things, that stays out of the way of community energy for positive projects – and helps us when it can.

We’ll work to bring these consultations to your attention when we hear about them.

I know many folks have started defiant plans for boulevard vegetable gardens. Shame that this happened in the first place, and that a tomato plant is seen differently than a Black-Eyed Susan. But good that change is coming. And we get to stay vigilant.

Potluck celebration when the rules change?