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Wealth of possibilities for Pemberton community plots

Agricultural Parks Plan aims to provide direction for unused lands

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There is much you can do with some arable land.

You could grow a community garden, where school children can learn about nutrition and sustainable living, or you could grow a community orchard full of fresh fruit.

You could build a home for honeybees, a greenhouse for greenthumbs, or even a community stable.

In discussing what to do with four plots of municipally controlled land, all of these ideas and more were raised by Pembertonians during early stakeholder meetings, said Dawn Johnson of the Stewardship Pemberton Society (SPS).

"Right now, all opportunities are being looked at, and we're keeping a very open mind from a stewardship perspective, recognizing that we need the support of these community partners and these community stakeholders in order to make this project a success," Johnson said. "It's a really ambitious project."

The project in question is the Pemberton Agricultural Parks Plan — a joint effort between the SPS, the Village of Pemberton (VOP) and other stakeholders to provide direction for four pieces of land: two on Harrow Road, one near the airport and one by Signal Hill Elementary.

The lands have been part of discussions going back to 2012, but the project started to gain steam in the summer of 2014, with the first community brainstorming sessions taking place in August that year.

The SPS obtained grants of $10,000 from the Community Foundation of Whistler and $20,000 from the B.C. Real Estate Foundation to support the development of an Agriculture Parks Master Plan, while the VOP committed $5,000 in cash and another $2,500 of in-kind staff time to the project.

Agriculture assessments and soil testing were completed this fall, with more community input to follow.

"Now that we've got some more ideas and information on the table we're going to do some stakeholder consultations and really start to develop a plan," said Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman.

"Once that plan is done we can start looking at funding and grant applications."

At this point it remains to be seen what the lands will be used for, but on a base level, the benefits are many, Richman said.

"I think it's going to be a great amenity, and we'll see exactly what shape it takes, but there's an education component, there's an identity component, there's obviously the productivity of it," he said.

"If you look at our community gardens, they're very well used already, and I'm sure this will all get really well used as well."

Originally, the SPS saw the project as a chance to increase food security in Pemberton, Johnson said.

"When you talk about food sustainability, there's all these amazing links to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing carbon footprints, and tying it into the educational system so the next generation of children can really look at models and ways in which we can be more sustainable as a community and as individuals," she said.

"So that's sort of what fired us up."

But before any digging can commence, there's more work to be done, starting with an open house tentatively scheduled for February. Details will be posted to the SPS and VOP websites when they become available.

"If I had it my way we'd be shovelling out garden beds in the spring," Johnson said with a laugh.

"So ideally we'd like to get started in 2016, but recognize that true community consultation sometimes takes longer than expected."

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