Gardeners and volunteers alike endowed an East Vancouver neighbourhood with a new source of community spirit

Motivated by blaring hits of the '70s and '80s, occasional pep talks and an ice cream break, a crew of around 70 volunteers came together in East Vancouver last month to transform two empty city lots into a beautiful, food-producing community garden.

Located near the intersection of Commercial Drive and East 8th Avenue, the garden is the result of garden tool manufacturer Fiskars’ Project Orange Thumb, which has supported and built community gardens since 2002. Fiskars joined forces with Canadian Tire, the City of Vancouver, social services agency posAbilities and volunteers to complete the garden makeover in one day, on June 23, 2010.

“I think it’s important we take more control over the food we eat,” said garden designer, host and producer of Growing a Greener World Joe Lamp’l. “Most food we eat travels more than 1,500 miles.”

Lamp’l said community gardens that grow edibles can cut down our carbon footprint, provide the healthiest chemical-free food possible and encourage sustainable living, all the while providing a fun, healthy family activity.

“There’s also the social element of gardening,” says Mary-Clare Zak of the City’s social planning committee.

“People being connected to their neighbourhoods, they learn how to work together and share excess food.”

Community gardens have doubled in the last 15 years, said Lamp’l. And it’s having an impact. Zak said she thinks people are eating more fresh produce, have a better understanding of what it takes to be a farmer, and the public and private sectors are working together.

In Vancouver alone, there are about 3,000 garden plots, more than 65 community gardens and around 4,000 people gardening, according to Zak.

“We look for communities that are really excited about [a community garden] and will take care of it afterwards,” said Fiskars president Paul Tonneson. “We thought Vancouver was a great place to do it when we talked to the City.”

This particular garden will have additional benefits. Fiskars and the gardening pros that helped design and build the garden are gone, but they have donated all of the gardening tools to the community and posAbilities is taking over the tending and administration of the garden.

Their Can You Dig It! initiative, to be implemented in 24 Lower Mainland gardens in the next three years, trains people with developmental disabilities in woodworking and gardening.

“It’s about community inclusion and empowerment,” said Can You Dig It! project coordinator Cinthia Pagé. “When you are the one giving back, it gives you confidence in your abilities.”

Page said the program also aims to erase the idea that disabled people are the ones in need by giving them the opportunity to donate the produce grown in the garden to food programs and harvest meals.

It gives developmentally disabled people a healthy, therapeutic community to be part of, along with local residents and members of MOSAIC, an organization that helps immigrants and refugees, Page said.

“That’s one of the good things about gardens,” she said. “People come together. Everybody blends together in the garden.”

 


 

Serena Calder lives in Vancouver and studies journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa. When she’s not in class or chasing a story, she’s probably rummaging through clothing racks at local boutiques and thrift stores or watching mindless reality television. She hopes to one day settle down as a writer in a big city. Blog | Twitter