The City of Kamloops has many community gardens all managed by Interior Community Services Kamloops, Community Garden Coordinator, Greg Unger. Learn about Greg’s experience in working with community to build bountiful growing spaces.
Community gardens are vibrant spaces for community building and engagement, and there are a plethora of beautiful gardens in British Columbia to explore. My classmate Parnyan Karkon, and I, Kristen To, had the opportunity to interview one such community garden coordinator in Kamloops, Greg Unger, and learn about the community gardens he manages.
Greg Unger is the Community Gardens Coordinator for Interior Community Services Kamloops (ICSK) and is currently in his second year fulfilling this role. Interior Community Services BC manages nine gardens in Kamloops. As the coordinator of several gardens, Greg humbly described his role as a ‘glorified landlord’, explaining that he organizes the few hundreds of gardeners through a spreadsheet, maintains the garden waitlists, and lends a helping hand with maintenance work and repairs throughout the year. On top of this role, Greg is also the manager of the Kamloops Regional Farmers’ Market. When speaking of his jobs, Greg mentions the benefits of connecting with others while working in a small city.
“It’s a nice thing about the city of Kamloops, all of these people know each other, [so] there’s a lot of networking that happens. The Farmers’ Market, the community garden program, all of these other non-profits that are doing food-related advocacy, all these people know each other, it’s pretty great.”
Every community garden has a volunteer site leader who works to build community in the garden. Site leaders organize seasonal ‘work bees’ which are regularly scheduled events for all of the gardeners in the garden to meet and complete community work together. Although these events have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Greg explained that one of these site leaders typically organizes them as outdoor barbecue potlucks. On a sunny afternoon in spring, all are invited to come, bring something to eat, and work together. “That, I find, is a great way to build community right from the start.”
Challenges The Gardens Face
Although the community gardens are admirably run, the site leaders and gardeners still encounter challenges. Community gardens located closer to downtown Kamloops, struggle with casual theft with people coming by and taking produce out of the gardens. To remedy this, the site leaders have tried using a few methods for prevention, including putting together care packages for people who need extra food; this includes putting a crate outside the front gate with food in hopes that they wouldn’t feel the need to steal. Although welcoming to all, Greg stressed that the community garden is open specifically to the gardeners of that garden. Additionally, challenges arise for community engagement. As a community gardener, there are tasks that must be done communally including pruning trees and tending to communal herb gardens. Sometimes, it is not within the gardeners’ desire to carry out such duties, which can create difficulties for other gardeners and the site leader.
“I wish more of the public knew that the ‘community’ in ‘community garden’ is not referring to the community at large, but the community of gardeners. There’s a perception that because it says ‘community’, anyone can come and take produce from it.”
In spite of COVID-19, gardens continue to flourish! As the pandemic set in during early 2020, Greg was assured that they would still be allowed to operate. All gardens run abiding by health authority rules by encouraging members to regularly sanitize their hands, disinfect surfaces and keep a safe distance between each other.
Prior to the pandemic, there had been plans to set up workshops for gardeners to learn various gardening techniques such as composting or learn about nitrogen fixing plants, which would be held at the educational garden in the Mount Paul Community Food Centre, a new building run by Interior Community Services. When the pandemic is over, these workshops will be open to all gardeners. Inside the Community Food Centre, there is also a commercial kitchen where classes will run, and the goal will be to provide education and literacy around food. Due to Covid, Greg’s team decided to pivot. Instead of the workshops, Greg informs us that “rather than running workshops in this garden, we’re starting an affordable neighborhood produce market, as the Food Centre is located [in a] low income neighborhood.” Volunteers will be growing produce, and then putting together bags of food to sell for a dollar a bag.
Successes of The Garden
As a younger individual who loves to garden, Greg wishes that more young people would participate in gardening themselves. In his eyes, having new gardeners enjoy their first season enough to return the next year would be considered a success for him. Greg recalls specifically one gardener who, despite starting as a complete beginner, showed so much enthusiasm for gardening that she is now building hoop houses (a little greenhouse), and learning more about gardening techniques faster than Greg himself! Greg advocated strongly for the benefits of gardening, telling us “[it’s] good for the heart, it’s good for the head, it’s good for the stomach.”
“I really wish that more young people were gardening, [so] I always get very excited when young folks approach me and want to get on the waitlist. If I can get a young person gardening, and if I can get them to enjoy their first season and come back for another year, I consider that a success.”
Next Steps for Greg and His Team of Gardeners
In terms of community engagement, Greg’s team is currently busy formulating the affordable neighborhood produce market to replace the Food Centre workshops, as mentioned earlier. In addition to this, they are hoping to start a newsletter. A few community gardeners are also members of the Thompson Nicola Master Gardeners Association, and their goal is to write about composting, companion gardening, and other garden topics to share and build community.
For gardeners interested in getting involved with the community gardens, Greg is very encouraging.“…It’s good to call early [because of waitlists]. There are plenty of stores, and the farmers market downtown where you can get seeds and equipment.”
For those who prefer a group gardening option, Greg suggests getting involved with the educational garden in the Mount Paul Community Food Centre, or the Butler Urban Farm, which similarly, is a communally run urban garden that grows produce for the neighborhood. If you are interested in registering for the waitlists for Crestline or the other community gardens, please contact Interior Community Services here.
About the authors:
Kristen To and Parnyan Karkon are students at the University of British Columbia studying Food Nutrition and Health in the faculty of Land and Food Systems, working together with Can You Dig it for this community-based project.