The Central Okanagan Community Garden Society (COCG) manages 17 community gardens which is supporting community members in the Kelowna region to get access to healthy fresh food.
My partner, Yasmine Fahmy, and I, Victoria Fung, are students in the Land and Food Systems program at the University of British Columbia. This semester we had the opportunity to interview Georgiann Kasdorf, a board member of the Central Okanagan Community Garden Society.
Yasmine and I were able to virtually interview Georgiann, the chair of the Central Okanagan Community Garden Society (COCG). Georgiann got involved with the COCG about 10 years after moving to the Kelowna area because she wanted to find opportunities for gardening in the community. Now, as the Co-chair of the COCG with Ruth Mellor, Georgiann and Ruth both lead the board of directors for the society and oversee the work being done at each of the community gardens. In addition to being a board member, Georgiann also directly coordinates several community gardens: Rowcliffe, Parkinson Rec Centre, Cawston and St Paul.
The COCG is located in Central Okanagan, BC, with the majority of their community gardens located in Kelowna and West Kelowna. The map is used to show the location of some of the COCG gardens within the community. Originally founded in 2002, the COCG has expanded to 17 community gardens within the region, which includes about 600 garden plots between the spaces. As the demand for community gardens grew, COCG was able to obtain more land donated by the municipality, private church groups, and private owners to start new gardens. Each of the gardens are coordinated by a volunteer who overlooks and assists in the maintenance of the garden.
One of the gardens that Georgiann directly manages is Rowcliffe Community Garden. This is one the COCG’s newest gardens that opened in 2019, which is uniquely located in Central Green, a Kelowna City Park and development complex. Rowcliffe is a popular space. With 35 garden plots, there is always high demand and has a long waiting list.
With the long-waitlists at every garden, some families have to wait for years, and when they finally get the call that a spot has become available, it is very gratifying.
“I have one woman waiting for a plot at Lindahl, this garden I’ve just taken on. She said that she’s been waiting for three years already, but she goes to the garden regularly. She’s made friends with a lot of the gardeners already and she’s not even gardening there.”
One of the biggest challenges that Georgiann faces as a board member is meeting the huge demand for garden plots. One of the society’s main objectives is to advocate to the City of Kelowna to offer incentives to developers to include garden spaces in order to meet the demand.
The high demand for plots is due to the unique characteristics of the Rowcliffe Community Garden. New raised platform garden beds werehand-crafted by a COCG project manager, Steve Lance, who received funding from the Flower Power Kelowna Garden Tour Association. Being the newest garden of the Society, it is well maintained and highly visible to the residents of the apartment building complex. The garden shed is another unique feature of the garden. Its neutral colour exterior pops with red paint to liven up the space, as seen in the photo below.
“ I always tell my new gardeners to not plant one beautiful pumpkin. If you’re going to grow tomatoes, grow a whole bunch of them so that if a few go missing, you’ll still have some left. Also grow weird things like yellow tomatoes or black tomatoes, because other people aren’t familiar with them so they don’t take them.”
Photographed is a view of the Rowcliffe Community Garden located within the grounds of a City of Kelowna Park and development complex. The red shed is one of the key focal points of the garden that makes it distinguishable from other gardens in the area.
Theft is an ongoing challenge that all the gardeners at the COCG’s gardens face. In particular at Rowcliffe, there have been many instances where residents of the apartment building have noticed people walking around the gardens and freely picking vegetables that were not theirs. As a gardener, it becomes very disappointing to arrive at your garden plot and see that all your hard work and ripened vegetables have been picked. The reasons for the theft are still unclear, yet has encouraged the garden to create more signage to deter people from picking other’s vegetables.
Georgiann tells us that despite the challenges that Rowcliffe has faced, the gardeners still believe in creating a sense of inclusion within the garden community There are many opportunities to engage with the gardeners at Rowcliffe, including teaching one another how to grow certain types of obscure vegetables or how to maintain garden plots. Georgian mentions a few strategies that are used to tackle theft and community learning.
Georgiann shared that the most rewarding aspect of working as a coordinator is seeing the diversity of the neighbourhood reflected in the gardens and the mix of generations interacting within the space.
Even though Georgiann does not personally have a plot, she shared that she feels more a part of the community as a coordinator and loves to see other community members enjoying the gardens. Before the pandemic, community members were able to walk through the spaces to enjoy the growing harvest and interact with gardeners. Many people choose to get a plot as a social activity and hobby to get them out of the house, rather than their main source of food .
“The things I like seeing the best are brand new gardeners whether they’re young or old, getting advice from long-term gardeners. Young families love to get involved and show their children how things are grown. Several of our gardens are close to schools so a group of school children also come in. We also have people with disabilities, sometimes their support worker or their support organization will take a plot and so that they can participate as well and learn from each other. Everybody’s learning from each other.”
Due to COVID-19, Georgiann has found that the demand to get a plot at COCG has risen due to more people interested in their community and a desire to be outside. COCG had many events to allow for more community engagement that they are unable to run due to the pandemic. Biannual potlucks, work parties, and annual meetings to bring people from each of the gardens were events meant to engage their community. They would also host seminars on specific topics as educational programs for their members. If you would like to get involved in community gardening, Georgiann recommends reading the COCG manual on how to start a garden in your community. If you would like to read the manual or would like more information, feel free to contact the COCG at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the authors:
Victoria Fung and Yasmine Fahmy are students in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia, studying in the area of Food, Nutrition and Health and Applied Animal Biology, respectively. We have collaborated with Can You Dig It, a sub-organization of the Public Health Association of BC, to raise more awareness about community gardens across the province.