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Project Orange Thumb builds Vancouver community garden in one day

Project Orange Thumb volunteers working to a 4pm deadline

A new community garden blossomed in Vancouver yesterday. Two city-owned lots just a little west of Commercial Drive on E. 8th and a little south of the Broadway-bound Skytrain became a source of community pride as Fiskars Project Orange Thumb transformed the barren patch of soil into a beautiful and productive neighborhood garden ­in just one day.

Eva and Isabella check out the neighbourhood's new garden

Fiskars, a leading manufacturer of garden tools, joined forces with Canadian Tire and the City of Vancouver to coordinate, plan and execute the one day community gardening event. More than 70 volunteers, including members of local organizations PosAbilities and Mosaic, participated in the day’s events of wheel barrowing dirt, building frames for raised beds, laying soil, planting and mulching.

Fiskars president, Paul Tonnesen, said the one-day extreme garden makeover was inspired a few years ago by stories of guerilla gardening in Europe where anonymous gardeners transformed a rooftop or yard into a garden under the cover of night. “We didn’t want to go to that extreme, but we liked the concept of all-at-once, urban garden creation where we come in quickly and leave something beautiful behind.”

Fiskars president, Paul Tonnesen, waiting to install the garden's plaque

Tonnesen, who has been involved in eight of the nine Fiskars garden makeovers, said that the greatest challenge in building a community garden in one day is doing all that needs to be done in eight hours. “No matter how many times I’ve done this, I always start to freak out around 1pm when I see all of the plants that need to be planted, raised beds that need to be built, and dirt and trees and grass that need to go in.”

Getting the job done is garden designer Joe Lamp’l’s job. Lamp’l has designed each of the nine garden makeovers for Project Orange Thumb and is also producer and host of PBS’s Growing a Greener World. Lamp’l was busy running between volunteers and the food garden to the west and the perennial gardens further east, stopping to give regular directions on a bullhorn and wolf down a sandwich.

Garden designer and Growing a Greener World host Joe Lamp'l

Lamp’l said that local conditions, area photographs, and the community's ethnicity and abilities were all considered when planning the garden. The raised beds allow access to people of varying abilities, and plants like bok choy reflect some of the ethnic diversity in food planting. The garden will be a combination of edibles ­ fruits and vegetables ­ as well as decorative perennials like sage, daylilies, coreopsis, and flowering trees donated by Canadian Tire. All Fiskars-donated garden tools, with characteristic orange handles, are left behind for future gardeners.

Duncan Reith, SVP Merchandising, Canadian Tire Retail, took time out of planting beds to talk about a conversation two years ago between long time business partners, Fiskar’s and Canadian Tire, that led to the inclusion of Canadian cities in Project Orange Thumb. “As one of the country's largest retailers of lawn and garden products and a company focused on giving back to the community, we are delighted to be involved in this meaningful project,” he said. “Each Canadian Tire store is independently operated and our Grandview store is very invested in its local community and very committed to supporting this project.”

Vancouver was chosen for a sponsored garden because of the city’s strong commitment to the garden project and to urban agriculture and neighbourhood-based food production, according to Fiskars public relations manager, Janelle Schwartz.

“This is a welcome new food producing garden in Vancouver,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. “It's great to see the private sector get involved in local food production ­ this is exactly the kind of creative partnership we want to be fostering. Vancouver is keen to reach our goal of becoming the world¹s greenest city by 2020, and new community gardens like this one are a great way to get us there.”

The non-profit posAbilities will administer and tend the new garden through its Can You Dig It! initiative, which assists people with developmental disabilities, together with their community, to transform urban spaces into agricultural bounties. “The goal of Can You Dig It! is to create a community garden with and for people with disabilities and to support social inclusion,” said Cinthia Page, project coordinator for Can You Dig It! “Gardening builds a sense of empowerment, hope, and confidence for these people.” Can You Dig It! will also give back a percentage of the crop from this new garden to food depots or food programs.

Mosaic exchange students from Hong Kong helped out 

Local residents and members of MOSAIC, a non-profit organization serving immigrants and refugees, will also be able to obtain individual plots in the new garden. Sherman Chan, director of settlement services at Mosaic explained how the Mosaic community will use the garden as a way to introduce its volunteers, exchange students, new immigrants and refugees to the people and communities around them. “It is an opportunity for them to interact and mingle with other people in the neighbourhood and also to contribute new and different cultural traditions related to food and gardening.”

“It is a way for each of us to start a conversation and to learn from each other,” said Chan. “Gardening is a common language.”

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