It’s unlikely goats, peacocks and other animals will return to their old stomping grounds in Queen’s Park, but the fate of the petting farm has yet to be finalized.
The city is currently seeking feedback on the future of the Queen’s Park petting farm and will start preparing conceptual plans for the site in the fall. For now, the space is being used for temporary programming, such as an outdoor art gallery and outdoor concerts.
According to the City of New Westminster, the farm space is not large enough to comfortably house the type of livestock that visitors to the farm have enjoyed through the years. (Until 2020, variety of animals called the petting farm home each year from Victoria Day to Labour Day.)
“The comfort and care of the animals has always been the city’s top priority,” said a notice on the city’s Be Heard New West public engagement website. “Our farm staff have always provided the best possible care to our animals, but we know going forward that the current space has become insufficient.”
The petting farm, which began operating in Queen’s Park in 1960, did not open in 2020 because of COVID-19.
“We are taking this opportunity as an ability to open up a conversation about the future of the petting zoo area in Queen’s Park,” said Mayor Jonathan Cote. “For a number of years, even before the pandemic, there had been some calls, particularly from animal welfare groups concerned about the operation of the petting zoo. The reality is petting zoos aren’t normal city operations anymore.”
Cote said last year’s closure of the petting farm because of the pandemic was seen as a good opportunity to begin exploring a different direction for the space, one that is connected to food and food sustainability.
“Council hasn’t made any final decisions about what the future of that space will be, but we do want to engage the community about potentially a different path for that area,” he told the Record.
Sustainable food pilot project
In April, city council received a staff report about a pilot project to transition the petting farm toward a space for local sustainable food production.
“Prior to the pandemic, parks and recreation were in the process of developing an action plan to seek out opportunities to integrate urban agriculture with year-round learning opportunities for local food production into the farm’s operations,” said the report. “This initiative has become more relevant since COVID-19 and has given cause to reevaluate the importance of a local, resilient food supply.”
According to the staff report, the city received “mixed feedback” about the petting farm when developing the Queen’s Park master plan in 2013. Although the “well-used and loved” component of Queen’s Park was supported by most of the people who provided input into the master plan, some suggested it should be eliminated.
“No doubt, when my kids were a little bit younger we enjoyed going to the petting zoo and getting to visit the animals. Certainly, we hear that perspective,” Cote said. “We have been hearing from a number of animal welfare groups, for a while actually, about concerns about the petting zoo. There have been a few issues related to some of the animals’ welfare, with the death of a peacock that happened at the petting zoo a few years ago.”
Cote said the city believes the petting farm may need to evolve into a different use that can still bring the community together, but in a bit of a different way.
“Just with the times we are dealing with all the environmental issues and dealing with climate change, finding a way to kind of use this space to think about how we do farming in our community, being one of the more natural locations in our city,” he said of the pilot project. “That is one of the ideas that’s been floated to test out that space and bring the community together to better understand our food systems.”
Cote attended an art gallery in the Queen’s Park petting farm space in June.
“It did show that that space could go in a lot of different directions, but could really be a wonderful community space to bring more people in there in different ways,” he said. “I am looking forward to hearing from the community about how we can best use that space.”
The report to council said staff is pursuing a partnership with the province and a non-profit organization to help transition the farm towards urban agriculture.
“Transitioning the Queen’s Park farm to local sustainable food production and cooking is important for educating and demonstrating local food resilience, as well as social and environmental sustainability in this prominent location,” said the report. “The transition also offers potential opportunities for year-round programming of the farm.”
According to the report, Phase 1 of that partnership would include repurposing two existing farm structures – one for a community oven and the other for a small events stage. Communal seating and tables for sharing food and social gathering would also be constructed.
The report said these initiatives would “increase the park’s liveliness by creating a gathering place” and would promote social interaction, food sharing and local talent. It goes on to say the space could be used by park goers for birthday parties, celebrations and social gatherings, could be used a place for programs such as drop-in pizza days, cooking demonstrations and cooking projects.
“I think we all know how food helps bring community together. It’s more than just an opportunity to learn about sustainable food but to see how food is made and be able to have the community come together and share a meal together. I think that is quite interesting,” Cote said. “Obviously, the details are still to be worked out. But there are communities that have tried things like community pizza ovens and different things like that that can be community focal points.”
If the city moves in this direction, the report said staff would engage with the community and invite ideas for future phases of the farm transition.
For more information on the city’s plans for the Queen’s Park farm or to provide input, go to www.beheardnewwest.ca.