By Helen K. Peterson
Eight months ago, residents who live around the Arbutus Corridor (the area surrounding the rail line that extends from Granville Island to the Fraser River, mainly via Arbutus Street) were asked to cease and desist with their gardening activities.
For several stretches of kilometres, burgeoning gardens filled with produce (fruit and vegetables), flowers, plants and associated sheds, tools and décor, had been staking a claim [albeit unpaid-for] along the CP Rail right-of-way.
But in July, 2014, the actions were forbidden and gardeners were asked to remove all property from the area, as CP Rail’s mandate from its shareholders was to use the tracks once again after many years of neglect. A recent City of Vancouver stop-action was unsuccessful in court, and the opportunity for free land use by gardeners came to a permanent end.
Seeking viable alternatives
Now that Spring is awakening in Vancouver and citizens are hungering for freshly grown produce that they can cull from their land, the absence of land ‘beside the tracks’ looms large.
Local resident Juan Espinoza, a native of Spain who has been growing his own produce for decades, laments the lost opportunity, but realizes that there is no sense being angry about it.
“We had a good run of it,” he says. “My wife and I were able to grow a lot of kale, a variety of lettuces, zucchinis the size of footballs, and many other types of produce.”
It’s shocking how much you have to pay at the grocery for herbs, for example, he laments. “The parsley and mint we had was thick and leafy – and virtually free,” Espinoza says. “Now, we are growing things at a much smaller scale in our back garden.”
All is not lost
The City of Vancouver, in its bid to be green and sustainable, strongly emphasizes the use of community gardening. According to the website, if you are not able to grow your own vegetables at home, joining a community garden is an excellent way for you to benefit from locally grown food.
But community gardens are not just places to grow healthy vegetables, it states. Studies show that community gardens also promote community building, reduce crime, and more.
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.
Click for more on the Vancouver Park Board’s Community Gardens initiative.
Arbutus Victory Gardens
The area near Espinoza’s home has one such community garden – along East Boulevard from 50th to 57th, also 65th to 68th Avenues, on the west side of East Boulevard. It’s on City property next to the railway tracks, and is clearly marked with City signage. (For more information, call 311 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
However, the City states that none of the community gardens in Vancouver are run or overseen by City staff. They are all administered by local community groups. To get a plot in a garden near you, locate the garden you are interested in joining from the list below, and then contact them directly.
Not surprisingly, there are many more people interested in garden plots than there is space available. The City advises that you may need to add your name to a waiting list.
A garden on your own property?
Have room to grow vegetation but have no idea where to begin? If a knowledgeable green thumb is all you need, FarmCity Food Garden Construction may be the answer.
Created to help homeowners convert their grassy yards to garden plots, this Vancouver business promises to help you obtain fresh, organic food on an ongoing basis.
At FarmCity head farmer and carpenter Darach Seaton and his team customize any type of fruit and vegetable garden to any size and specification. But taking on expert assistance does come with a price-tag, so it’s not for everyone.
Espinozaa thinks a sharing program within neighbourhoods is probably the best tack to take, if there are going to be limitations on getting a community garden plot.
“If I’m able to grow far more volume of robust, large kale [which is very trendy right now, I might add] than my neighbour, but she is having a great season of radishes, and someone else’s tomatoes or green beans are flourishing… why don’t we all get together and do a trade on Saturdays?”