Community gardens bloom in Brome-Missisquoi

By Ruby Irene Pratka – Local Journalism Initiative

In Cowansville, people moving from houses to apartments don’t have to downsize their gardening aspirations from a vegetable patch to a window box. The Jardin communautaire écologique de Cowansville rents out garden plots for a nominal fee of $10.

“The garden has existed for 15 or 16 years; when we expanded it in 2017, I became the person who took care of it,” says Jules Brodeur, president and treasurer of the garden committee. “We have 55 plots and about 72 people who come and garden, plus a group of day campers who have a garden in summer.” There are also three elevated boxes that are accessible for wheelchair users.

Since the end of the first COVID-19 lockdowns, community gardens have been experiencing a bit of a boom in urban areas – in Quebec City, for example, between 2019 and 2021, the waiting list for a plot ballooned from 413 people to nearly 2,400. In Cowansville, the waiting list is not nearly as long, but the pool of potential gardeners is growing.

“Over the last five years, 20 or so apartment buildings have been built, and people who live there don’t have gardens; people who have had farms in the past but move into apartments in town are our clientele,” says Brodeur. Brodeur says the garden committee doesn’t formally give priority to apartment dwellers, but they make up about half of the garden’s participant base.

After filling out an application and paying a $10 fee, a gardener can access an 8-by-16-foot plot and grow flowers or vegetables to their heart’s content. “We provide the land and compost, and the participants provide the plants,” Brodeur explains. “The only real requirements are that you have to be a resident of Cowansville and you have to want to garden.” Community garden members keep produce they grow, unlike members of the nearby Jardin collectif, where volunteer members grow produce which is later given to community organizations to support people in need.

Joining a community garden also means joining a community, an exciting prospect for many after two years of intermittent pandemic-related isolation. “About half of the participants are people who live by themselves,” adds Brodeur. “I believe half of them are there to grow vegetables and the other half are there mainly to meet new people.”

In Brome Lake, interim director of recreational services Martin Lussier says the town has maintained a community garden with 26 raised boxes for at least the last five years. “We open registration in March and provide water, fertilizer and compost onsite; there’s also a shed with shared tools.” Members pay an annual fee of $20 and commit to four hours of volunteer work per year. Both the Brome Lake and Cowansville gardens have codes of conduct which forbid pesticide use.

“It’s a great place to meet new people who have the same passion as you, and it creates a little community around local products,” Lussier says. “People who don’t have the space at home can access a box at a very low cost.” He hopes the pandemic-driven influx of young families into the region will attract new volunteers to the garden. “Everything is made possible by volunteers. It is our first summer with all these new people, so we just want to make sure people learn about all the services that are offered…and answer the call.”

Lussier encourages people interested in gardening or volunteering in the Brome Lake community garden to contact the community centre. In Cowansville, contact Jardin communautaire écologique de Cowansville on Messenger. In Bedford, the Regroupement des organismes communautaires des Rivières established a community garden in 2018; according to the Guide du nouvel arrivant du Brome-Missisquoi, there are also community gardens at the Centre culturel St-John in Bromont and near the Villas des Monts de Sutton in Sutton.

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