With more people living in condos, apartments, and townhouses, not everyone has a backyard to call their own. And some people struggle to manage the physical demands of gardening. But around the region, community gardens are filling those gaps. One great example is at Somerset Gardens in Surrey. The residents welcome the opportunity to grow their own food. But, they also reap another valuable harvest, in the friendships that bloom where the seeds of community are planted.
Metro Vancouver’s Somerset Gardens Housing Complex in Surrey is a trailblazer when it comes to community gardens. Ulryke Weissgerber, Metro Vancouver Housing Tenant Programs & Services Supervisor, is thrilled with the results.
“I can’t say enough good things about community gardens. Number one they bring people together. People are able to grow vegetables and in the days of the $12 cauliflower, it’s nice to be able to supplement what you put on the table for dinner and cut down the grocery costs.”
For Somerset Gardens resident Pam Mortlock, her garden plot equals a year-round bounty.
“When we harvest the plants we obviously we give a few things always. But we blanche the green beans, the beets, and the carrots. We blanch a lot of them and have them throughout the winter and we know they were fresh-fresh when we pulled them. As a matter of far we just used the last of the green beans that we planted last year so they last a long time.”
Community gardens can be a great source of pride for individuals and for the community of gardeners who tend them.
“The gardens are important to me for a couple of reasons,” says Somerset resident Joni Wright. “Being able to grow my own food is about as good as it gets. And you know holistically its really really great this is my happy place. It’s easy to be relaxed in the garden getting your hands dirty and your feet dirty and being in the earth is just healing.”
“My pride and joy is my quinoa plant,” adds Wright. “It is the first time I have grown quinoa so I have no idea how this is going to go but it looks like it starting to flower so the seeds should come along fairly shortly so I’m pretty excited about that.”
Mortlock is grateful for the sense of meaning and purpose she gets from her garden plot.
“It makes a person feel that they have a purpose in life. As you get older you can’t do as much. It’s good to have at least one thing you can call your own and doing something that you were doing in your earlier years.”
“It’s a great place to meet your neighbours,” says Wright. “You are meeting folks who are like minded who are passionate about growing their food and being in the dirt and so it’s an awesome friendly place – it’s a great community spirit.”
Weissgerber notes that the gardens become a place to pass on learning as well. Joni Wright agrees.
“The tomatoes are a really good example I had what I thought were weeds, and it ended up being cherry tomatoes from the gardener before and Pam helped me identify that these were definitely tomatoes and I’ve been able to distribute them into other plots in the community garden here.”
The Somerset Gardeners are serious about sustainability — converting green waste into beautiful compost for the gardens for the following season. That community-minded approach is further illustrated with their innovative harvest box.
“The harvest box is something that came from the community gardeners here,” says Weissgerber. “I totally credit them with it – I think its an incredible initiative. They noticed that members of their community for whatever reason — be it age, or mobility, or other issues, needed fresh fruit and vegetables, were on limited incomes and were unable to garden themselves. So they as gardeners decided to build a box they call the harvest box and gardeners are invited to contribute to the garden box and at harvest time they have a list of residents and they will deliver this week’s harvest to each person.”
There are 26 community gardens across Metro Vancouver, but that number is ever growing.
“We keep looking for opportunities to expand gardens,” says Ulryke Weissgerber. “We keep looking for new sites to put in community gardens where there is community interest.”