Organizers of community garden in Toronto west-end hope to postpone its destruction until after harvest
In mid-May, a community in the Toronto’s west-end built a garden at the site of a construction zone that had been sitting empty for about two years. Now, a few months away from their harvest, the organizers are being told the plants will be torn up in preparation for the building of a new school in the area.
Laura Lebel-Pantazopoulos, a recent master's graduate in urban planning whose focus was on informal gardening, said she started the project after she was contacted by a member of the community about creating a few plots at “Bloordale Beach.”
Bloordale Beach is a name the community has given to an empty, sandy lot near Bloor and Dufferin streets. A school is expected to be built in that area, Lebel-Pantazopoulos said, but all they knew was that the expected completion date was in 2023.
The lot had been empty since 2019 and while there is a fence around the area, it hasn’t been gated off for about a year.
“It's been essentially acting as a very public space,” Lebel-Pantazopoulos said.
What started as a single small rectangular plot soon grew to become a community gathering place. Every Monday, 10 to 15 people would come out to tend to the plants, talk about gardening and get some exercise. Lebel-Pantazopoulos said that residents and local business owners donated items such as water, soil, tools, and mulch to help the garden flourish.
There are numerous vegetables and fruits growing on the plots, Lebel-Pantazopoulos said, including tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, broccoli, cabbage, strawberries, corn, beans and even watermelon.
“I think like two weeks ago, we harvested some lettuce and a bunch of people took bunches home,” she said. “We put in some little benches and now people are messaging me being like ‘oh, well we don't garden but we'd like to go sit there and watch the sunset at the beach’.”
On Thursday, Lebel-Pantazopoulos was notified by members of the community that a few of the gates around the lot had been locked, with the exception of one gate near the garden.
“(Toronto District School Board) TDSB staff approached me and kind of talked about (how) they were told to dig up the garden. And they're planning on putting a big—putting an even bigger kind of wooden fence, because right now it's just kind of like a see through fence—around the entire site. They were told to dig up the garden, but that they didn't feel very good about that.”
“Then they told me that construction could possibly begin in August, but not specifically when in August. So that was news to me.”
The staff didn’t tear up the garden on Thursday, choosing instead to discuss the situation with their superiors—something the garden organizer said she appreciates.
Lebel-Pantazopoulos added that she knew the garden could not be sustained in that area—but hopes that a compromise can be reached so that residents can still harvest what they grew. She is hoping that even if the TDSB can’t change the location of their fence to ensure the garden is protected, that maybe they can wait until the fall so that the plants can be removed from the area safely.
“They all worked so hard and to not get to even taste—you know, the literal fruits of their labour—I think would just be really disappointing.”
“If there is, you know, 30 more days, 60 more days, it would make a huge difference to us if we got to stay for that time, have access to the garden for that time. That means all the vegetables in there that are not ripe now, could ripen. We can harvest all those green tomatoes and you know, we can have time to even maybe relocate the plants and donate them to other gardens or the community.”
Lebel-Pantazopoulos said they intend to donate any excess food to the nearby community fridge.
CTV News Toronto has reached out to the TDSB for comment but has yet to receive a reply.
The office of the area’s councillor told CTV News Toronto they could not comment on the issue as the land is not owned by the city.
“We have heard about this but as this is TDSB land and a TDSB project we do not have a construction schedule or information with respect to the TDSB’s timelines and any consideration they may have with respect to the Community Garden on their land,” Ward 9 Counc. Ana Bailão’s Chief of Staff Michael Giles said in an email.
Lebel-Pantazopoulos said that she did reach out to the city and to the TDSB when she considered applying for a grant to help support the project, but heard little in return.