Thanks to community activist Jill Weiss’s “Yes we can” attitude, future generations of gardeners with disabilities will have less of a barrier to growing their own food in Vancouver.
If what has happened up to now is “apartheid by design”, as Weiss describes it, she is the local community-gardening equivalent of Nelson Mandela.
Weiss, a member of the City of Vancouver’s persons with disabilities advisory committee who uses a wheelchair, has designed the first-ever accessible community garden in the city.
The section of Strathcona’s Cottonwood Community Garden officially opens on Sunday (July 11).
In this accessible garden, there are no steps and no gravel quicksand for wheelchairs to sink into. The pathways are wide and the beds arranged so that people in wheelchairs can easily garden and run the water taps, which are set at a conducive height.
“I think people don’t realize how much people with disabilities are actually separate from everybody else in our culture, and how that feels and how wrong that is,” Weiss said. “So this garden is a step in the right direction, in bringing together everyone from seniors to young people to First Nations people, who are often excluded from most community groups or events—not by a physical barrier but by a different kind of barrier.”
The four-acre Cottonwood Community Garden contains 55 general-purpose plots in total, according to Weiss, and 10 of them are for people with disabilities.
With $10,000 in funding from the city, $6,000 from the nonprofit Evergreen Foundation, and $5,000 from gardeners, many volunteers helped built the accessible garden with a budget of $21,000.
Jill Weiss talks about the accessible garden.
The accessible garden’s official opening will take place at 11:30 a.m. with fanfare and food, Weiss said. It’s part of the annual Strathcona and Cottonwood Community Gardens open house, happening from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The garden is located along Raymur Avenue at Malkin Avenue.
“This garden was designed using the guidelines for successful community gardens from the City of Vancouver subcommittee on accessible community gardens, and we’re hoping that the city adopts those guidelines and that new gardens will follow them,” Weiss said. “It’s beautiful. It’s not just beautiful to the soul. It’s not just fair and right, but it’s also a gorgeous garden. It’s a really beautiful garden. It’s integrated and it’s accessible and it’s really pretty.”
The accessible plots are already all taken. Weiss, who is also vice-president of the Strathcona Community Gardeners Society, said anyone wanting to get on the waiting list should contact her at 604-608-0384 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.