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The beaver ate the apple tree – the joys of community gardening

April 23, 2013

There are some pitfalls when it comes to gardening. First there is the weather, too cold, too hot, too dry, too wet. Then the bugs and the deer that no fence will keep out. And the aching back. And then the beaver that came and ate the little apple tree that Chloe donated to the Dunsmuir Community Gardens in Crescent Beach, Surrey. I stopped by this community garden in Surrey on the first day that really felt like spring. Warm, sunny, and surrounded by birdsong, a few people were already working their plots. Pixie and Chloe were there assessing their new section. Pixie, an avid gardener, waited for 14 years until she could get into Dunsmuir Gardens. She and her friend Chloe are going to share the work and the spoils, and, on the day I met them, were busy planning their season.

Faced with GM (genetically modified) and pesticide-laden food, a desire to eat healthily and take better care of our earth, concerns about food security, recognition that store-bought food just doesn’t taste as good, and driven by the pure joy of growing their own produce, people like Chloe and Pixie are turning to community gardening. Cities are developing food policies and looking at ways to incorporate this urban farming into corners of school yards, overgrown parking lots, and the sides and rooftops of buildings. Farmers’ markets are now a common sight and back-yard chicken coops and bee-keeping are gaining in popularity.

In the book “Food and the City, author Jennifer Cockrall-King relates a number of important facts:

  • because of the high-efficiency, just-in-time practices of grocery chains, our cities have little more than a three-day supply of food on hand at any given time,
  • in North America, we spend between ten and twelve units of nonrenewable energy for every one unit of food energy, and
  • according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture organization, approximately 75% of the biological diversity of our foods has been lost as a result of industrialized agriculture in the 20th century alone and we have lost 97% of the varieties of fruits and vegetables.

The American Public Health Association makes a scathing assessment of the US food system: “In the United States, obesity and diet-related chronic disease rates are escalating, while the public’s health is further threatened by rising antibiotic resistance; chemicals and pathogens contaminating our food, air, soil and water; depletion of natural resources; and climate change. These threats have enormous human, social, and economic costs that are growing, cumulative, and unequally distributed. These issues are all related to food—what we eat and how it is produced. The US industrial food system provides plentiful, relatively inexpensive food, but much of it is unhealthy, and the system is not sustainable.”

Vancouver has over 75 community gardens, located in city parks, in school yards, on private property – and even one on the grounds of City Hall. Surrey is developing a food policy and currently has four community gardens: Dunsmuir Community Gardens (see the photographs at the bottom of this post), North Surrey Organic Community Garden, Hazelnut Meadows Community Gardens, and Holly Park. There is also a community garden operated by Alexandra Neighbourhood House in Crescent Beach. White Rock has one community garden with 21 plots located on Vine Street just east of Centennial Park and adjacent to the Eve Bene Butterfly Garden. Most of these gardens have multi-year waiting lists showing the acute need for more such options. According to Surrey’s Planning and Development Department, by 2041, Surrey will have approximately 740,000 people and will be home to 1 in 5 residents of Metro Vancouver. Meanwhile, our farm land is disappearing, not increasing, and so the time to act is now.

Are you concerned about the food you eat? Would you like to be able to garden but can’t because you live in an apartment? Are you interested in sharing part of your yard so someone else can grow food? Or would you like to pitch in and grow food for the Food Bank on your own turf? One group of gardeners from the South Surrey Garden Club in White Rock is working three gardens for the Food Bank. (More about this group in a subsequent blog)

Rick Ketcheson, a local resident, grew up on a farm in southern Saskatchewan and lived in Lyon, France where there are farmers’ markets and community gardens everywhere. He is passionate about growing his own food and because he doesn’t have a yard of his own, he is sharing the back yard of a neighbour. Now all three of them can benefit from home-grown, fresh produce.

Building on his own interest and the ‘growing’ food movement, Rick founded the Semiahmoo Food Network to promote the building of more community gardens in White Rock and Surrey and the sharing of back yards. He is encouraging the cities of Surrey and White Rock to identify and support more community garden sites. He is also needs support from the community. If you would like to support this change in your city, can volunteer with Semiahmoo Food Network or would like to add your name to a list of interested gardeners or back yard owners, please contact Rick at semiahmoofoodnetwork@gmail.com.

Next post, more about our food supply and community gardening. Please come back to visit.

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Ice that turns money into water – what can be cooler than that!

March 15, 2013

Water we take for granted You saw them on Dragons` Den, two gals selling the Dragons on the idea of making money from ice. Not just any ice, but cool ice. Ice that looks good in a martini. On the Rocks Ice.

Compassionate Eye (CEF) is a non-profit organization that I have been following and supporting for quite some time – check out my earlier blogs including the one in September about the great Fort Langley photo shoot. CEF operates on a simple principle. Photographers and other creative people donate their time, shoot fabulous photos, deliver them to Getty Images which then returns to Compassionate Eye the proceeds from any sale or licensing of the photos. The funds are then used by CEF to support programs Read more…

If you like your theatre ‘fluffy’, don’t come to this

February 19, 2013

If you like your theatre ‘fluffy’, don’t come to this production of Agnes of God. But if you like to feel and think, be challenged, and experience the emotion of great theatre, you have to see it. I saw a run-through of the show on Sunday, in a big hall fitted out with a table, a couple of chairs and a practice stage. No-one was in costume. There were only the three performers acting their hearts out. This is a powerful story but it is the performances that are going to mesmerize you. It brought tears to my eyes and the rawness of the performances still resonates today.

A mysterious birth centres the play and the three characters each approach the reality and unreality of the situation from their own perspective. Read more…

The Plan for the ‘Last Post Fund’

February 1, 2013

PoppiesThere are some things that the Canadian Government does that defy any reasonable explanation.

On November 15, 2012, I wrote about the Last Post Fund which exists to ensure that no veteran will lack a dignified funeral and burial because he or she cannot afford it, a history that goes back to 1909.  What it actually accomplishes today is something quite different:

  • Since 2006, two-thirds of vets’ families who applied did not receive assistance because, in order to qualify, the combined assets of the spouse and deceased must be no greater than $12,015, an absurdly low figure.
  • Those few who do receive assistance from Veterans Affairs, receive a paltry $3,600 which is based on 1995 funeral rates. The average cost of a funeral today is considered to be around $10-12,000.
  • Worse, absolutely no assistance is given for impoverished veterans of the Cold War, Afghanistan or other theatres of war except in rare circumstances. Read more…

SOS, helping build leaders of tomorrow

January 24, 2013

The Idle No More movement gives voice to the burgeoning discontent of First Nations people. It is hard not to think of the lives lost and ruined by residential schools, the grave injustices perpetrated in the name of education and religion, the destruction of families caused by substance abuse, the cut of racism and the drudge of poverty. It is clear that more must be done by our governments to address the many serious issues they face. It is also clear that true change requires First Nations people also assume responsibility for moving themselves beyond the yoke and consequences of a colonial arrangement.

BC statistics illustrate the tragic disproportion of Aboriginal children in foster care. Aboriginal people represent just 4.8% of BC’s population but, as of August 2011, 56% of children in foster care are Aboriginal. [Source BC Stats report: Aboriginal Population in British Columbia: A Study of Selected Indicators for Off-Reserve and Urban Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Populations November 2011.]

SOS Childrens Village BC  (SOS) works with many Aboriginal children and youth who are working their way through the BC foster system, helping them by providing stable loving homes, counselling, job hunting assistance as well as educational and emotional support. I met one young man Read more…

The SOS solution: room to dream and the means to achieve

January 22, 2013

It is fitting that for my first 2013 post (somewhat tardy I admit), I revisit SOS Children’s Village in Surrey because this organization is all about the future – of children.

I had the pleasure of attending the SOS children’s party on one of those many dark, rainy evenings just before Christmas. Around 100 excited youngsters and “cooler” teens, parents, foster parents, volunteers and the committed crew at SOS celebrated Christmas in a big hall in Cloverdale. Volunteers manned activity stations, including a candy station, dangerous when you have a room full of kids but the sugar highs didn’t get out of control. Santa came and each child received a present, carefully chosen with him or her in mind. A little girl, when asked what she thought of her new doll, beamed and said simply, “it’s beautiful.” Santa went off to deliver gifts to other boys and girls and his departure was followed by a sudden exodus to the food line where everyone enjoyed a good meal. Read more…

An SOS oasis

December 4, 2012
Exploring

Hands together

Children in BC’s foster system move on average seven times while they are in care, with some moving upwards of 30 times (see previous blog post). It is not hard to imagine the toll that such instability must take on children on top of the trauma of being removed from dangerous or highly dysfunctional homes.

The non-profit SOS Children’s Village in Surrey supports kids in foster care in the South Fraser region by providing them with stable, supportive homes. SOS BC also reaches out to children and families in the community by running learning clubs that provide both academic and
social assistance at the SOS facility and in schools. A learning club coordinator is on call to help children who live at the Village to prepare for exams. Read more…

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