The precise fate of the Cowichan Lake Community Garden is still undetermined following last week’s town council meeting, although one thing is certain: it will be moving.
Mayor Ross Forrest stated the final decision on the garden’s relocation had already been made prior to the presentations to council on July 26.
“It was established a week or two weeks ago when we met. Two ball fields doesn’t fit in [to Centennial Park] with the community garden existing where it’s at,” said Mayor Ross Forrest.
The Centennial Park upgrades with allow for the creation of two ball diamonds, a soccer field and some additional parking.
“This council has always supported the community garden. It’s not that we have any fault with [it],” he said.
Earlier this month the town offered two possible alternate garden locations: at the grass lawn adjacent to the Cowichan Lake Marina or on Cowichan Avenue near the tennis courts.
Dale Combs, a resident on Point Ideal Road, where the first option is located, presented a petition to council signed by 17 neighbours opposed to moving the community garden there.
“Vegetable and produce gardens are work sites and most often do not look pretty. Green fields are pretty to look at and are increasingly hard to find,” said Combs. “Vegetable and produce gardens are most often untidy and unsightly. The town of Lake Cowichan has dedicated this park space and we would like it to remain green.”
Combs suggested the community garden group partner with Lake Cowichan School, which has a garden at the rear of the building and recently received expansion funding. He did note this was just his suggestion and had not yet checked with school administration.
During her presentation to council, Cara Smith, spokeswoman for the community garden, said Combs’ proposal of the partnership with LCS was “very intriguing” but there would not be sufficient space behind the school.
Smith said her group supports the redevelopment of Centennial Park.
“Many of the facilities that are envisioned will be of value to the community and will be well-used. We feel our community garden has demonstrated it should be part of this mix,” she said.
According to Smith, an estimated $45,000 — including the value of volunteer time and in-kind donations — has gone into the community garden. She asked that the town consider whether or not the Centennial Park plans could be modified to keep the garden in place. She said the two days of labour donated by the town in moving the garden is inadequate.
She also asked why the community garden wasn’t included in the town’s most recent grant application for the park, submitted in 2015. Forrest said the town needed to submit a shelf-ready project which meant using plans already drawn up by consultants in 2008.
“Sometimes when these grant applications come you’ve only got a week to be prepared to have it,” he said. “If you’re not shovel ready with a project, it doesn’t happen.”
The community garden society asked that if the garden must move, they be given until mid-October, in order to harvest their crops and to better ensure the survival of transplanting trees. Forrest said council won’t know the project’s timelines until after it has gone out to tender. He said town staff would keep the garden society informed of new developments.
Outside the meeting, Smith said the gardeners and supporters need to get together and figure out their next steps.
Regarding the Point Ideal petition, Smith said the gardeners “wouldn’t consider starting over in a place we’re not welcome.” She also said the Cowichan Avenue location is not suitable either because the land is divided by a creek and covered in bush.
“So we’re hoping the town will have other options and locations available for us to look at,” she said.
In a press release, Judy Stafford, executive director of Cowichan Green Community, which designed the community garden and hosted horticulture workshops there, said she was shocked to learn of the town’s plan.
“It’s very disheartening to learn that somehow this community garden had been considered ‘temporary’ by council. We certainly were not aware of that and feel there has been a complete disregard for what the community has built,” she said.
“As we have expressed to council, ‘moving the garden’ is not an option. We are holding out for a third alternative that would see this essential community space co-existing alongside the recreational facilities.”