Community Engagement and a Community Garden

Rob Wickson is president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association. Gabe Epstein is the Coordinator of the Transitional Garden Committee.

When we first began to get involved with our local community association – called a “Ratepayers Association” at that point – we asked each other this question: “How do we create community?” 

That was back in 1998 and we have been learning how to do that ever since.

We have found that creating community is an evolutionary process. It cannot be imposed. While it includes the actions of a few that lead to support by many, it is the actions of many that create a community.

When we asked the question, our first observation was that, while we all lived in close proximity to each other, we barely communicated. That led to a community newsletter hand delivered to every household by an army of volunteers. We also realized there was a need for some sort of community gathering and, voila, the Gorge Canada Day Picnic was born. These two actions created the foundation for the Gorge Tillicum Community Association’s goal of building community.

The Queen leads the parade in 2012

photo: The Queen leads the parade in 2012

Canoe rides are always popular

photo: The canoe rides are always popular

One might ask, why bother putting resources and effort into such a complex venture? The answer comes from the individual desire to live, work and play in a society that provides the greatest personal satisfaction and highest quality of life.

Our latest achievement stems from the proposal to build a community garden within Gorge Park. 

This idea saw the light of day at a 2011 GTCA-initiated community workshop addressing visions for the park – as well as from the desire of Saanich to create opportunities for local community gardens. The workshop brought neighbours and Saanich Parks’ staff together, resulting in a common understanding of present conditions in the park and consideration of how suggested improvements might further enhance community engagement. 

Belle Leon - Detail from a poster

photo: Belle Leon – Detail from a poster

Since one of the ideas suggested at the workshop was that of building a community garden in Gorge Park, when Saanich Parks offered the community the opportunity to do just that, a process of consultation and exploration was set in motion – in collaboration with Saanich – that led to the recent approval of the proposal by Council.

But that’s just the “product” – what really mattered was the process used. 

There have been meetings, phone calls, conversations, emails, letters, flyers, posters, workshops and consultations with organizations and experts. Survey Monkey, newsletters, the GTCA website and Facebook page, and an Open House were all used to encourage participation and gather a large amount of information – opinions, concerns, suggestions, criticisms, dreams, resources, and more. 

Lists were created and updates about the process were sent to about 250 people. A lot of work was done by volunteer committees and individuals. Information gathered was used to draft a Vision for the garden as well as initial designs for the physical space and the organizational structure of the garden. 

The garden, it was agreed, would be welcoming, productive, beautiful and educational; it would be physically and financially accessible; food would be grown for personal use, for donation, and for sharing; flowers and mason bee boxes would welcome pollinators to the site; it would be environmentally responsible; it would seek out partnerships and welcome creativity and the arts; and much more. 

Belle Leon - Detail from a poster

photo: Belle Leon – Detail from a poster

The process has featured, and will continue to feature, collaborative effort on the part of as wide and diverse a body of people as possible. To quote an email we received, “It's awesome to realize how good leadership can take steps to 'materialize' a vision and bring together a community.”

In essence, the garden we envision will be a gathering space for the community – designed and cared for by the community, acting in collaboration with Saanich – a garden for growing a community!  

Even more important for this community is the growing success in answering the question, “How do we build community?” The examples we have cited here can be used as templates by any community that wants to find ways of engaging citizens, helping everyone feel part of the neighbourhood.