Exasperated by the housing crisis in Waterloo Region, food insecurity is also a continuing issue. While various community organizations continue to address these problems, community resources such as community fridges and gardens have been under attack as of late.
The ComeUnity Roots Garden in the Henry Sturm Greenway was majorly vandalized in the last week of August. Plants were pulled out by the roots and scattered across the plots. Ever since its inception in 2018, the garden has faced its share of vandals and issues. The gardening team believe this is due to miseducation about what (and who) community gardens are for.
“[The garden] gate was jammed shut. But someone had taken out multiple plants, destroyed plants and pulled things out everywhere,” Rebekah Haynes, coordinator for the ComeUnity Garden, said.
“There were things broken, there were just things misplaced everywhere. Part of our trellis for tomatoes was broken,” she said.
The 519 Community Collective’s community fridge, hosted and stored by the Café Pyrus outpost, was stolen on the weekend of Aug. 19.
Julie Sawatzky, the founder of 519 Community Collective, spoke about the theft with CTV Kitchener on Aug. 21.
“None of [the staff] were overwhelmingly shocked because we are all from downtown Kitchener and are used to these actions,” Tyzun James, owner of Café Pyrus, said.
The fridge was at the location for close to two years and well used by the community.
Organizers do not know why or how it was stolen. By all accounts it was stocked with food when it was taken.
“If you need food, you might take some food—but it’s just the level of destruction and not taking the food, but just throwing the plants everywhere. It’s inexplicable and doesn’t make any sense,” Magda Milosz, ComeUnity garden volunteer, said.
Milosz discovered the vandalism in the garden on Aug. 24. Produce grown in several plots are dedicated for donation to community groups that include St. John’s Kitchen and the Working Centre.
“We have a couple beds that we grow specifically just for donating, some things are just companion plants. We [also] have a few plots that we set aside for anyone who joins in our garden,” Haynes said.
Plants are collectively decided on by the gardeners as well. Over the summer, there are tomatoes, cabbages and nasturtium. Gardeners can purchase some seeds using the small budget earned from the membership fee.
Beside the roots garden there is a food forest, also a ComeUnity project.
“The food forest is open to the public. It’s not just food for people, though. I mean, it’s kind of there for the animals and they like it. It works together. It’s mostly sustainable,” Haynes said. “It’s permaculture,”.
Community members can get involved in three ways. They can volunteer to who help maintain the plots. ComeUnity garden members pay into the fund on a sliding scale basis of $15-$30 and there are leadership positions that help keep the garden system running smoothly. Everyone is responsible for maintaining the plots, harvesting and making the garden accessible for the community.
Café Pyrus is opposed to surveilling the fridge to protect users’ privacy, But the 519 Community Collective has raised funds to rebuild the wooden box the fridge is held in. While they wait for a new fridge, the food that would normally go into the community fridge will be dispersed their 26 tiny community pantries across the region.
“We don’t even have that [security cameras] for our staff, we are not that kind of business and we do not want to be,” James said.
As for the community fridge, 519 Collective and Café Pyrus Outpost are still dedicated to keeping the project going.
Despite the vandalism, ComeUnity Roots Garden remains dedicated to keeping the garden plots open for everyone.