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Kale Corner saved from resodding

As Fernwood garden awaits approval, urban agriculture activists call for action
Zoe Mager tends to Kale Corner

The fate of a grassroots community garden on public land looks promising, after the community rushed to save it from destruction.

Known affectionately by neighbours as Kale Corner, the veggie plot started humbly two years ago in the triangular greenspace at the intersection of Belmont Avenue and Begbie and Grant streets.

As the garden's keepers grew the plot and added a driftwood border, however, it caught the attention of the Victoria bylaw department.

One day in May, Zoe Mager arrived for a garden meeting to find crews deconstructing it.

"Everything happened really fast," she said. "It was like this urban (agriculture) community mobilized … Within the first two days there was 200 signatures (on a petition)."

Mager, who lives in a house adjacent to the greenspace, is now seeking official community garden status to gain a three-year lease with the city. That requires approval from the neighbourhood and support in the form of liability insurance.

The bureaucracy leaves her convinced it's better to ask forgiveness than permission.

While city staff warned that nonpermitted gardens on city land could pave the way for others to follow suit, Mager countered, "That's the point!"

In an online blog, she calls for action.

The city wants to support urban agriculture but also fear "the commoners taking back the commons beyond their control," she wrote. "And so we will! I say now’s the time … do it! Plant food everywhere, till up public lawns and create food and medicine gardens."

The city's director of parks, culture and recreation, however, points out these greenspaces are not just vacant land. "It's an actual utility corridor," said Kate Friars. Utility companies need access to the land for infrastructure maintenance.

"Community gardening needs to be put in the context of balance," she said.

The debate in many communities is around access to land, Friars added. "We're having an experience in Fairfield (for instance) where some individuals are very keen on making an application for a community garden … but they've met a lot of resistance."

Friars is overseeing a review of the allowable uses of city boulevards. It's been postponed many times but she hopes to bring recommendations to city council by early 2012.

Kale Corner is technically a boulevard, but its size and relationship to the street makes it an anomaly.

"I think given our experience with Kale Corner, we will probably have to define more closely these open greenspaces and how they work," Friars said.

As Kale Corner awaits official status, young clover sprouts along the edges of its raised dirt bed.

The clover helps to keep the moisture in the soil, Mager said, explaining the driftwood used to play this role before the city removed it to avoid a tripping hazard.

"I didn't realize the niche (the garden) fills ," she said. "Everybody comes by and it creates so much community … (Without the garden) it's nothing. It's lawn and people rarely come and sit here."