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…back to Visioning Sessions

4.1 Background

The Hanover District Hospital (HDH) is situated on a large land parcel, and only a portion of it is used for hospital infrastructure. The rest is a combination of lawns and country lowlands. The HDH was interested in looking at ways to use a three acre lawn across the street from the facility for a community-farming project.


Figure 14: Overhead view Hanover District Hospital (source: googlemaps)

In 2015, the SOIL team reached out to the HDH to inquire about their interest in exploring options for the unused land. In early 2016, the HDH took the SOIL team up on the offer. On May 16 2016, a group of stakeholders in Grey-Bruce County convened for an inaugural meeting to discuss the feasibility of establishing a community farm project. Brendan Wylie-Toal, a researcher on the project from the organization My Sustainable Canada, took the lead on initiating stakeholder meetings to explore how HDH could use the 3-acre plot of land for growing food.

The meeting included a diverse group with participants recruited by the SOIL team and senior hospital staff. The group included representatives from the SOIL project, senior leadership from HDH, City of Hanover officials, an environmental non-profit, and farmers.

Meeting attendees were:

  • Brendan Wylie-Toal – Program Manager, My Sustainable Canada
  • Marnyie Ferguson – VP of Finance and Operations, HDH
  • Brandon Koebel – Board of Governers Member, HDH
  • Sue Paterson – Mayor, City of Hanover
  • Barry Randall – Manager, Grey-Bruce Sustainability Network
  • Gary Kenny – Farmer, River Croft Farm
  • Rosemary Crick – Farmer, Crickhollow Farms


4.2 Interest and Incentives

Hanover’s has many incentives for pursuing the development of a hospital garden, including a positive experience for patients and families and the development of more sustainable hospital food services.

4.2.1 Community Impact

The project will create opportunities for youth, job seekers, homeowners, local farmers, seniors and special needs community members to connect with the land, how our food grows and to experience physical activity in a community setting.

4.2.2 Brand Impact

Utilizing the 3 acres of institutional land in productive community project will reflect a strong positive image on the Hospital and its desire to encourage and demonstrate the contribution our food makes to health living and community resilience.

4.3 Site Description

The proposed land at Hanover is a 3-acre field adjacent to the hospital grounds. The land was previously used as a hay field, but has been unused for two years. In the winter the northwest corner of the land is used to dump snow from the parking lots; the ground may have a high level of salinity for this reason.

4.3.1 Competing land uses

The HDH Board of Governors will only approve a lease arrangement to support a farming project if there is a clause that allows them to break the agreement on short notice (no more than three months). The HDH has made several unsuccessful attempts in the past to sell the plot of land. However, they wish to retain the flexibility to do so in the future, should a buyer emerge. The City of Hanover is particularly interested in having a hotel and conference centre built at the land being considered for farming.


Figure 15: HDH site plan

4.4 Description of the Proposed Project

The land would be used to create a Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration and Education Project (SADEP). This would include a large, one-acre plot of land to grow high-value produce and several smaller garden beds for residents to rent on an annual basis. Stakeholders expressed that the land should be used to grow food in a way that provides opportunities for community engagement and food literacy programs.

4.4.1 Purpose of gardens / production

Discussions to date have ranged from the establishment of a “community garden” with plots that would be rented by community members to a more significant “sustainable agriculture demonstration and education project” (SADEP).

4.4.2 Program model and governance

Several “best practice” models exist for the establishment of a local community garden. For instance, Walkerton hosts a community garden on municipal property where 20-25 people maintain 10×10 plots and pay a $25 per year fee to the municipality. The SADEP approach includes a wider range of activities that would engage the local and regional community in demonstration workshops and educational opportunities in support of a range of sustainable agricultural practices.

Potential projects include:

  • Community Garden Plots (10 x 10) or raised beds 4’ wide varying lengths
  • Accessible raised beds for seniors and handicapped
  • Cash Crop area in partnership with local farm
  • Rainwater collection demonstration with eco-ponds
  • Workshop and Picnic Shelter – host gatherings, workshops.
  • Community Greenhouse in partnership with local experts
  • Organic Compost Demonstration Area
  • Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration areas – windrows, cover crops, companion planting

4.4.3 Partners

Partnerships with groups like the Saugeen Conservation Authority and others would be used to provide a range of educational programing to educate youth about food, farming, and sustainable farming practices.

4.4.4 Responsible Staff

The HDH stipulated that no staff time or hospital budget could be used to support operations of a farm project.

4.5 Moving Forward

The proposal was presented to the Board of Governors in June 2016. While the Board of Governors did not approve the request to seek funding and continue developing the proposal during this meeting, they did decide at a later date that the project was an exciting opportunity for HDH. However, because of the Board’s desire to keep the option of selling the land as viable as possible, they suggested that no permanent structures should be erected on the plot of land. As a compromise they suggested that such structures could be constructed across the street on their Fit Trail, which runs through the country lowlands beside the hospital.

To advance the project, the Board created a second ad-hoc committee of several members of the Board to work with the existing committee. The two groups met in July to discuss options for the project, but talks about next steps quickly broke down. The Board members were clear in their need to reserve the right to sell the three-acre property. While establishing structures on the other site were considered, after a tour of this site the two groups came to consensus that there was no potential to engage in any of the activities which had been described in the accepted proposal.

While this outcome was disappointing, an update was shared at this final meeting that the Hanover Community Foundation had been working on establishing a community garden in the area for some time. While it looks unlikely that the HDH will be supporting a farming project, it is possible the project’s action committee could collaborate with the Community Foundation to bring the vision of the project to life.

The discussions summarized in this report were initiated by the SOIL research team. While establishing a community farm project on hospital land aligns directly with the priorities of this research group, it was never a strong fit for the other stakeholders that were mobilized to be involved. For SOIL, the research team only had the capacity to support the initiation of the project, and to provide guidance throughout the planning.

The Hanover District Hospital, and all acute care facilities, have very clear missions and mandates. Supporting agriculture is tangential to those directives at best. Although the case can be made that supporting food and education about farming could align with the values of a health care facility, the project was mostly only appealing to HDH staff for public relations reasons. This poor alignment with their priorities and their fiduciary responsibility to act in the best financial interest of the organization are likely the main reasons for why the hospital was not more flexible on lease terms for the project.

The project aligned more strongly with the priorities of the other stakeholders, but it still was not a strong connection. For the farmer stakeholders, their primary focus was maintaining their own farm operations. One of the more involved farmers had just launched a new market program and was balancing a number of priorities at the time these discussions were taking place.

It is likely that this project would have been more viable if the local community had initiated it. Instead, the project was led from the top-down by a research team and then senior health care personnel. A committee of local and non-local stakeholders was assembled, but this was done quickly and they were tasked on the fly to bring the vision to life. The problem with this approach is that projects like a Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration and Education Project often require substantial sweat equity and time to get off the ground and be maintained. The time of senior institutional staff is often stretched thin to begin with, making taking on the tasks necessary for launching a project like this a difficult proposition. If instead the project was grass-root in nature, there may be a community of people interested and willing to put in the necessary time. It is our experience that strong projects are the result of clear commitment from the stakeholders. We can provide the forum, but what develops from there is up to the various partners involved.

Barnes and Schmitz (2016) expand on this point in an essay in the Stanford Social Innovation Review called Community Engagement Matters (Now More Than Ever). They point out that how a social initiative is pursued is often one of most important predictors of success, and that when such efforts are pursued in a top-down manner they are more likely to fail. They make the case that top-down approaches tend to mobilize community groups, meaning that stakeholders are recruited to support someone else’s vision. The other approach is to organize stakeholders and let them cultivate their own leadership, interests, and vision. The latter type of community engagement is less fragile and more likely to succeed. In this instance, however, stakeholders were quickly mobilized to another group’s vision and the buy-in that was necessary to work through adversity never formed.