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Gardeners plead for ground

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 09/05) - A citizen's group of green thumbs wants assurances from city council that their community garden plot won't be bulldozed for development.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Laurie Morton shows off a giant radish she grew last summer at the Yellowknife Community Garden Collective on Kam Lake Road. The city is pondering whether to re-zone the site for residential development. - photos courtesy of Laurie Morton

Doug Townson, chair of the Yellowknife Community Garden Collective, wrote a letter last month asking the mayor to consider a 10-year lease for the group's garden plot at Woolgar Avenue and Kam Lake Road.

Right now, the collective is required to renew their lease every year.

A residential study unveiled by the city this year ranked the site as a prime area to build homes, with a recommendation that it be re-zoned for residential development.

"We trucked in soil from Hay River to get a good base of soil down there, and if we were to move we would ultimately have to move the soil or get new soil," said Townson.

"That would all come at a phenomenal cost."

The garden collective has occupied the site since 1995. In 2000, the group built a second plot to meet growing demand. Townson said the collective has about 90 members.

Laurie Morton said the garden offers apartment dwellers and others a spot to grow vegetables because they don't have garden plots of their own.

"Now, I do have a house, but it's all bedrock in the back so I still wouldn't have space to put a garden," said Morton.

"It's nice to have that available to me to grow my own vegetables."

Townson said each member is required to donate about a quarter of their crop to charity, such as the Salvation Army and Yellowknife Food Bank.

"We donate over a thousand pounds of vegetables a year to those charities," said Townson.

He said the collective grows everything from potatoes to lettuce and broccoli.

If city council were to decide to re-zone the site, they will need permission from the territorial government even though the city owns the land. The government still holds a caveat over the property restricting development that harks back to the days when the old Yellowknife Correctional Centre stood across the street.

The facility closed two years ago.

The residential study reports that the 2.6 hectare site is large enough for 27 single-family lots, 84 "medium density units," or 169 high density units.

Coun. Blake Lyons said he supports the community garden, and doubts council would force the group to move to make way for development.

"My reaction would be to let it stay there," said Lyons.

"It's been there for years and membership appears to be growing, they're performing a service and the public is indicating, 'we want this type of thing.'"

Lyons said he enjoys to garden himself, although he is not always a very successful gardener.

"You've got to grow a couple potatoes if you want to call yourself Irish," said Lyons. "I get a lot of laughs from people. They produce comedy."

Council will likely make a decision on the site early in the new year.