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A bounty of agriculture in a food desert

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 In a food desert, an oasis of agriculture will be grown.

Children, parents, government officials, and city activities officially broke ground on the McQuesten Neighbourhood urban farm that will include a Victory Garden involving 112 vegetable beds, yielding about 80 pounds of food each.

“There is more going on here than just food,” said Jerry Noordam, executive director of HamiltonVictory Gardens. “There are a lot of underlying themes.”

HamiltonVictory Gardens, along with the city of Hamilton, Hamilton Community Foundation, and the Hamilton-Wentworth Separate School Board, have partnered with the McQuesten Neighbourhood community to build the first urban farm in the city. The farm will be located on about five acres of land owned by the city that abuts the East Kiwanis Community Centre, and St. Helen Centre on Britannia Avenue.

“Growing sustainable food,” said Noordam. “It’s a perfect use of a piece of land. It’s pretty significant.”

He said urban gardens have improved depressed areas, while creating a sense of community.

An urban farm, say community activists, will help to reach a number of the key priorities McQuesten residents have been proposing to city officials and other agencies to help rejuvenate their area. Food security, improved education, and job training are engrained in the McQuesten Neighbourhood Action Plan that was created about two years ago.

“The plan identified what the neighbourhood wanted,” said community development worker David Derbyshire, who lived in the neighbourhood for 13 years. “This is a food desert. The closest grocery store is two kms away. We are trying to make the neighbourhood a better place and more food secure.”

He said most residents in this community shop at the nearby 7-11 for groceries.

“They will be able to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and hopefully eventually sell them, creating some sort of enterprise,” said Derbyshire.

The idea of a urban farm, will allow not only residents to have safe, nutritious, organically-grown food, but it will provide the opportunity to help train people in agricultural, said Paul Johnson, director of the city’s Neighbourhood and Community Initiatives. That is important since the area high a high poverty rate especially for children, but also 31 per cent of the population is younger than 20 years old.

The city did provide some seed money, along with staff advice, he said. The city is also about to issue a tender in an effort to hire someone to oversee the urban farm’s operation, says staff.

“This is a plan created by residents, and developed by residents,” said Johnson. “We found out the land is good for growing. They have taken it from there. This is sowing seeds of advantages in this neighbourhood.

Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla, who was also in attendance during the May 15 event that kicked off the community’s neighbourhood crawl, has proposed the city build what is being described as an urban fitness trail that would connect with the Red Hill Valley, the Bruce Trail, and the Hamilton Brantford rail trails.

“This community has really developed together, I was say faster than any other neighbourhood,” he said.

 

 

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