A patch of back-alley land has undergone a decade-long transformation from an underutilized privately-owned plot to a thriving community garden that produces over one thousand pounds of fresh vegetables each year. Now, The Milky Way Lane garden is looking at new identity,
as the first plot of community-owned land purchased by the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust.
“The Milky Way garden is a pretty unusual community garden, because it’s on private land,” explains Joshua Barndt, Development Coordinator of the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust. The plot’s owner, a local filmmaker, was unable to acquire the permits needed to build housing on the plot, and it went unused. About ten years ago, Tish Carnat, an ESL teacher at the Parkdale Library, had a conversation with her students about the costs of vegetables. The students, mostly refugees from India and Tibet, said produce available in stores was “quite unaffordable,” says Barndt. “But they had quite a bit of experience with growing food.” Carnat approached the owner of the plot, and a community garden was seeded.
For the past decade, the library’s ESL students have worked about 40% of the lot, growing vegetables in raised bed. “The class gardens every Monday morning from nine to noon” says Barndt. “Throughout the week, the students who are interested are going there on their own time and taking care of the site.”
“Parkdale has undergone a very rapid gentrification, and land uses like this have a huge benefit to the neighbourhood,” he says. The Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust has partnered with Greenest City; once the plot is purchased, Greenest City will develop programming for the space. “We’ve promised to keep a newcomer community garden on the site, but the rest of it will be used for what they called intensive growing,” says Banrdt.
The Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust sees this purchase as the first in a larger conversation about land uses in Parkdale. “In our society, there’s a premise that the land goes to the highest bidder, but we think we need to preserve land for community benefits,” Barndt says. They’re currently raising money to finance the purchase of the garden; in the future, the group may look at housing, storefronts, and other spaces as potential land-trust purchases. “We need to be proactive to ensure that we have the mechanisms in place to keep the neighbourhood affordable and diverse.”