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Gardens, Gardens Everywhere

Olga Ruskin in the garden at Pearson Centre


In the January 2010 “Common Ground” magazine, Carolyn Herriot wrote about a newly-formed Vancouver Island Food Systems Network whose mandate is to create a Vancouver Island diet to secure the food supply locally. She quotes these statistics for current Vancouver Island food sustainability:

  • 35% sufficient in dairy
  • 18% sufficient in chicken
  • 68% sufficient in eggs
  • 8% sufficient in fruit
  • 7% sufficient in veggies

This is a good reference point for Vancouver’s own food security system and a guideline for how far we have to go to secure our own food supply. 

On May 30, 2006, Vancouver City Councillors issued a challenge to individuals, families, community groups and neighbourhood organizations to establish more food-producing gardens in Vancouver.

The challenge, put forward by Councillor Peter Ladner, was a motion calling for the City to work with the Vancouver Food Policy Council to encourage the creation of 2010 new garden plots in the city by January 1, 2010, as an Olympic legacy. That goal was met and exceeded. This following document includes details on this initiative as well as a map of some of the current gardens in Vancouver:

Now the next challenge is to create a neighbourhood garden on every block of the city. All it takes is knocking on neighbours’ doors until one or more people offer to turn their backyard into a garden for the neighbourhood.

Last year, Jennifer Rashleigh coordinated the Farmers on 57th project at George Pearson Centre, a Vancouver Coastal Health institution for people living with severe long-term disabilities. “Farmers on 57th” transformed about one acre of Pearson's 45 acres into community integrated gardens with:

  • organic flower and vegetable MARKET CROPS, grown by experienced market gardeners, for Pearson and CSA shareholders
  • WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE, RAISED GARDENS for Pearson residents, family, staff
  • fruit tree ORCHARDS (20 dwarf heirloom apple trees)
  • COMMUNITY PLOTS for various groups (including DIGA, the Disabled Gardeners Association, classes from the local Sir Wilfred Laurier Annex)
  • CLASSES for first time gardeners (registered through Marpole-Oakridge Community Centre)
  • GREENHOUSE and COMPOST BIN construction

Jen and her gardening efforts are featured on The Sustainable Region TV Program at this link: (Scroll down to Episode 44 Agriculture and click on the “Farmers on 57” video.)

Last summer, I had the honour of interviewing one of the Pearson Centre gardeners. This is Olga Ruskin’s story of why she loves gardening:

“I garden because I enjoy being outside and seeing things grow because it’s life. It exposes you to the world of living plants and makes you realize there’s more than you on this planet. It fills me with joy to have something growing from nothing and flourishing. I feel more alive when I can smell and feel the plants and the earth. We’ve lost touch with Mother Earth when we are actually part of her. The air around a garden is brighter, it smells so much nicer, and the colours are uplifting. There is such a sense of peace working around flowers. They don’t talk to us but they do indicate whether they are happy or not in their own language. It’s an interesting experience to talk in another language: the language of plants.

This garden has changed my days. When I feel low, I can come out and look at the flowers and I feel happy because they are so pretty and colourful. They literally uplift me if I have a bad day. I can’t do much because my hands are stiffened with arthritis but I can go into the garden and get engrossed in the plants and I forget my cares.

A feeling of fellowship has grown among us as gardeners. It promotes friendship because our common interest in gardening bonds us together.

 The world of plants is a different world that lifts us up out of our problems. They give me peace and calm that I don’t feel in the busy world out there where everyone is rushing around. Plants don’t rush. They sit there happily being themselves. When we feel that from them, we are more satisfied with our lives.

I’m not a great gardener you know but I love gardens and get joy just looking, smelling, and touching the plants. I hope what I’ve said inspires others to get involved in gardening. “ 

Olga passed away on January 19, 2010.

Jennifer Rashleigh and Norm, another Pearson Centre gardener, with produce from Norm's garden.

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