The City of Pembroke ordered a local charity to dismantle its small community garden of six planters, with some councillors citing concerns about loitering and the charity’s lease agreement.

The raised planters brimming with vegetables sat on a small platform by the parking lot outside The Grind in downtown Pembroke, Ont., until last Friday when volunteers and staff shipped them away at the direction of the city.

“It was a hard, hard day — and a hard week leading up to that,” said Jerry Novack, executive director of The Grind, a volunteer organization and charity that provides services ranging from homelessness support to a lunch program for low-income clients.

“It is disappointing, and you know, we are trying to really help the most vulnerable people in our community.”

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Volunteers and clients, such as those pictured here, spearheaded the effort to bring the planters to The Grind. (Submitted)

Novack said volunteers at The Grind spearheaded a partnership with the local Fellowes High School, which built and donated the planters and supplied the plants.

The goal, he said, was to set up the planters in an outdoor smoking area so clients could grow tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables for use in the community kitchen.

Novack said The Grind worked with the city and health unit throughout its application for an outdoor smoking area.

“There was a space that was leftover where we had initially thought the smoking area would be,” explained Novack. “What our volunteers decided to do was to create a garden in that area.”

Afterward, The Grind filed a site plan control application with the city and a majority of councillors opposed the garden and directed The Grind to remove it.

“We were shocked,” Novack said. “We had no idea. We thought we had that support.”

Planters will ‘become seats,’ councillor says

At the July 11 City of Pembroke combined committee meeting, councillors opposed to the project raised concerns about whether the planters would encourage loitering outside the building.

“We know that we’ve had some loitering issues in terms of after-hours in that area,” said Coun. Troy Purcell. “These [planters] become seats, very quickly.”

Coun. Patricia Lafreniere, who also opposed the project, agreed.

“They’re going to become seats and they’ll be used as a patio — and maybe they’ll be putting their cigarette butts out in the plants,” she said.

WATCH | Councillors worry planters will be used as ‘seats’:

Councillors oppose planters at Pembroke charity, fearing they’ll be used as seats

A majority of councillors in Pembroke, Ont., directed The Grind, a volunteer organization helping the homeless, to get rid of its community garden during this July 11 committee meeting. Some cited loitering concerns.

Coun. Ian Kuehl said The Grind’s lease only covers the inside of the building and not the space outside.

“I’m not a beg-for-forgiveness instead of asking-permission kind of person, so I also have quite a disrespect for the fact that this was already done without our permission,” he said.

“Big no,” he said. “Big, big no.”

But Novack disagreed, saying The Grind had worked with the city “every step of the way” as it developed the application.

“We weren’t — definitely — trying to do something under the radar,” he said.

A ‘very noble cause,’ mayor says

In a Tuesday news release, Novack said The Grind has not received any loitering complaints in the previous four months and added the charity had been transparent about its intentions. A nearby resident, however, showed CBC a loitering complaint they lodged in May.

Although a relatively limited source of food, Novack said, the garden boxes were also intended to provide a means of therapy for clients.

Pembroke Mayor Ron Gervais called the project “much-needed.”

“I think that their cause is a very noble cause,” he said. “I believe they’re honestly trying to work with the neighbours.”

On Wednesday, Gervais said he “100 per cent supports The Grind” as an organization. 

He said though a majority of council decided this outcome, “it may not necessarily reflect everyone’s viewpoint who is on council.”

One volunteer at The Grind moved the planters to their property and plans to harvest the vegetables for clients.

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