Gardens go communal in Southeast False Creek

New community garden at Creekside to try out collective model
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From the roof of the James in southeast False Creek, the 360-degree view includes downtown Vancouver, City Hall, and the North Shore mountains. The terrace atop the 155-unit condo building at 288 West 1st Avenue, built by Cressey Development Group in 2012, features a barbecue, kids’ play area, and lounge.

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James residents Matt Cooke and Carlson Hui gave the Georgia Straight a tour of the three raised beds and six pots that comprise the communal garden that occupies the rest of the 14th-floor space. The largest bed is home to 12 plots named after nearby streets, the pots contain herbs, and there’s a compost bin, which will soon be joined by a rain barrel.

“We have all of our lettuces and tomatoes here,” said Cooke, who is a food, nutrition, and health student at the University of British Columbia. “Around the corner, we have mint.”

Although the typical community garden consists of plots maintained by individual users as well as common areas, this rooftop garden is a truly collective endeavour. Participating units pay $25 a year to join the provisionally named James Garden Club and then take part in scheduled planting and harvest days.

According to Cooke, the year-old communal garden has “brought the building together”. Residents have an incentive to help out on harvest days, because they get a share of the crops.

Hui, who works for Lululemon Athletica, noted that strata members approved the communal-garden concept at a meeting in early 2013. He maintained that the garden has been the catalyst for residents to organize events such as barbecues, bike rides, hikes, and potlucks.

“This year, what we found interesting is how this has provided a foundation for community for the entire building,” Hui said. “So, it’s sort of gone beyond gardening.”

Matt Cooke and Carlson Hui say their communal garden helped create a community at the James.
Stephen Hui

Both Cooke and Hui plan to take part in a work party on Saturday (June 14) that will kick off the construction of a new community garden on the east side of the Creekside Community Recreation Centre (1 Athletes Way). Everyone is invited to participate in the event, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Approved by the park board in February, the temporary garden—it will eventually be moved to a new park east of the former Olympic Village—is located along the Seaside, Ontario, and Central Valley greenways. The project involves CityStudio Vancouver, the Environmental Youth Alliance, and The World in a Garden.

Hartley Rosen, executive director of the EYA, told the Straight that his organization has prepared a planting plan for the 350-square-metre “collaborative garden” at Creekside. Themed areas will feature berries, fruit trees, vegetables, and pollinator habitat.

According to Rosen, although the plan is for the garden to operate in a “100-percent collective” manner—without individual plots—how it is run will ultimately be up to local residents.

“The idea is that we’re testing this out just to see maybe it’s so successful that we can use it in other scenarios,” Rosen said by phone from EYA’s office.

Rosen noted that in 2012 the EYA helped establish the Copley Community Orchard, which uses a collective model, on city-owned land near Trout Lake. He pointed out that there are examples of this model across North America, but it’s “pretty new” for Vancouver.

“Some people feel like you need individual plots to entice and engage people,” Rosen said. “But in the Copley case, that hasn’t needed to happen.”

Broccoli, kale, radishes, and spinach are among the crops grown atop the James.
Stephen Hui

Cooke and Hui said they hope the Creekside community garden will bring residents of southeast False Creek together, much like their rooftop garden has done for their building. They plan to share the “best practices” they’ve learned at the James and advocate for a similar communal model at Creekside.

“I think, definitely, it’s an opportunity to really be a part of establishing a legacy,” Hui said, “because this community is so new.”

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Juan Luna Ibarrizto
The Dragon Boat Festival use to be held every year in June at the Plaza of Nations. The management and owners of the Plaza of Nations in the early 1990s charged any non-profit organization $30,000 plus power charges for a two day weekend use of the Plaza of Nations as a staging venue for events like the Dragon Boat Festival. Community organizations use to hold their events at the Plaza of Nations but ownership of the Plaza of Nations had changed many times since Premier Van der Zalm and the Socred government sold the Expo 86 lands right after the expo, to a Hong Kong gazillionaire and his real estate company. The Plaza of Nations was supposed to remain a PUBLIC venue but something was lost in the translation. Now non-profit community organizations have NO PUBLIC venue for events like the Dragon Boat Festival. And you think VANCOUVER CITY is a world class city? Yes, but it is owned by foreigners.
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