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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

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

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 23, 2013 5:31 pm

    This looks very interesting. There is a lot of backyard lawn space in Surrey.

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