Toronto Garden

Torontonians say "Yes in my backyard" to new garden sharing program

The Stop Community Food Centre is spinning NIMBY into YIMBY with their new Yes In My Backyard Program.

Got a backyard you want to put to good use, but don't have the time or ability to garden? Want to garden, but don't have the space to do it? Just leave it up to the people at the Stop, who are matching up land with gardeners in and around their neighbourhood at St. Clair and Christie this spring.

The Stop has been popping up on my radar non-stop over the last few months, and it's definitely the food lover's charity-du-jour. Big culinary names like Ted Corrado, Anne Yarymowic, Jamie Kennedy, Mark Cutrara, Jason Inniss, and Kevin Brauch have been throwing out some love to their various charity events recently.

But if you haven't heard all the buzz going on around the Stop's high-profile fundraising efforts, it's what they do with the money they raise that's more interesting anyway.

The Stop Community Food Centre is a non-profit that has been operating in the city since the '70s when they opened a food bank at Lansdowne and Dovercourt. Since then their mandate has expanded, and they now work as advocates to increase community access to healthy food through a wide variety of programs.

On Tuesday night I sat-in on the first YIMBY meeting, and it was a packed house at the Stop's Green Barn #4. Over 40 people showed up for the information session, with a mix of ages, cultural backgrounds, and thumbs in various shades of green.

The Stop already has an 8,000 square foot community garden at Earlscourt Park, plus a greenhouse and sheltered garden at the Artscape Wychwood Barns, but this is their first foray into backyard gardening.

Backyard sharing programs aren't new to Toronto. Websites like Sharing Backyards are providing the same service as the Stop's YIMBY, and green-thumbs looking for land can also try to get their own personal plots in community gardens (the waiting lists can be killer though).

What makes YIMBY a little more interesting is that after playing match-maker, the Stop will also provide free access to a tool lending library, a few seedlings in the spring, educational workshops throughout the summer, and neighbourhood garden socials -- all with the aim of making vegetable growing and gardening as low-cost and accessible as they can.

The yard owner and gardener work together to decide what to grow, how to grow, and how the bounty will be shared.

And as part of a partnership with Culture Link, those offering their land to the program can also elect to volunteer to spend time with newly arrived immigrants and refugees while they garden. The Culture Link program aims to provide friendship while helping newcomers get acquainted to life in Toronto.

If all goes well with the pilot this year, they may expand to other Toronto neighbourhoods next spring. But for the program to be really successful they want to reach a critical mass within their own neighbourhood first (defined roughly as Bloor up to Vaughan, Dovercourt/Oakwood over to Bathurst).

If you think about all the backyards out there that have some extra space for even just small garden or a few containers, backyard sharing programs seem like great way to make productive use of unused land in the city.

Photo by Anna Prior.

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