Chris Reid doesn't need expensive surveys to gauge public interest in garden plots.
He uses more basic techniques, like a sign-up sheet he posted on the chain-link fence around the next planned garden for Shifting Growth, a non-profit group that builds temporary gardens on vacant lots.
Within days, he had contact information for more than 80 people who wanted a plot at the site, currently a bleak gravel lot on the northeast corner of Commercial Drive and Broadway Avenue.
To him, that speaks volumes about the desire many people have to get their hands dirty and to his belief that vacant lots can be more than eyesores.
"Our goal is to give community members a place to grow food – it's really that simple," says Mr. Reid, who, with a partner, launched Shifting Growth in 2011. The company provides boxes and soil that can be moved once a site is to be developed. The portable boxes lessen worries about contaminated soil and could appeal to landowners who like the idea of a garden, but fear a long drawn-out conflict if one gets established and then is asked to move.
Shifting Growth's newest site is the Hastings North Community Garden, owned by London Drugs.
Its first was a site at Clark and 12th that was launched last year. The site – on a busy truck route – was noisy and unprotected. After an early flurry of activity, many gardeners lost interest.
To conserve limited funds, Mr. Reid skipped liners for boxes on the site, giving weeds an easy foothold and making the site more difficult to maintain.
This fall, he will decommission the site by dismantling boxes and moving them to other sites. Liners are now standard.
So far, Shifting Growth has been funded primarily through grants. Over time, Mr. Reid hopes the venture can sustain itself through management contracts with landowners. In most cases, installing a temporary garden on a vacant lot results in a tax break – reducing the owner's carrying costs and potentially freeing up funds that could be directed to Shifting Growth. Landowners also stand to benefit from Shifting Growth's approach to community gardens, which also involves connecting with local schools, non-profit groups and artists to make it a gathering, as well as a growing, space.
"You can really change the dynamic of a space when you bring in public art and community engagement."