Walk along the lawn north of West Point Grey Community Centre’s Aberthau mansion facility and down a series of stone steps built in the early 1900s. At the bottom, thick shrubs open into a plain bordered by trees where you may see and hear a variety of resident birds. To the north-east is a raised garden bed home to a panoply of perennial plants, berry beds, vertical gardens, an herb spiral and space for artists, preschoolers and other community gardeners.
The Aberthau Community Permaculture Eco Arts Garden is not only a beauty to behold, it is also home to many educational workshops run through West Point Grey CC by Village Vancouver Transition Society, a community group that supports sustainable agriculture and community resilience in Vancouver. Its founder and executive director, Ross Moster – who you can often find weeding and planting in the garden – has organized workshops and community gardening activities and events since it was established six years ago.
“The Aberthau garden is a great example of how we can bring together sustainable agriculture and education,” says Moster. “Over the years, I’ve seen how interest in gardening is growing, and certainly during the pandemic it’s seen a real resurgence.”
Planting through COVID-19
Many in-person workshops and events were cancelled following the start of public health and safety measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19. However, Village Vancouver stayed on its toes, pivoting its operations to accommodate online workshops and smaller group sizes for in-person activities.
“Around 75 of our food and gardening workshops for spring and summer were scheduled to take place indoors, and everything kind of ground to a halt for a while. But this summer we’ve been offering programs online through our Westside Food Festival, as well as scheduling several socially distanced outdoor workshops at Aberthau and elsewhere,” says Moster. “We have adapted because we are resilient.”
The gardens the organization operates were given the green light after being designated an essential service. And, as expected, gardening activities now follow provincial and city health guidelines for physical distancing and cleaning protocols. Posters that list how to keep safe while working in gardens are posted alongside sprouting plants, and kits of sanitized tools are handed out to gardeners who need them.
Monthly potlucks, permaculture meet-ups and recycling depots, among other things, are still on hiatus, though the recycling depot will resume soon, says Moster.
“There is more interest in gardening now than any other time I can recall because, from the get-go, it’s been an approved activity you can do outside,” says Moster.
Seed delivery for BCers
Physical distancing guidelines to cut down COVID-19 infection rates prompted Village Vancouver to shift its in-person seed libraries to a mail-out, delivery or pick-up service, which is supported by around a dozen volunteers.
“Access to seeds has been very limited since the start of the pandemic in places like Alert Bay, Bella Coola, Haida Gwaii and Sointula,” notes Moster who adds that Village Vancouver has been able to contribute around 10 to 15 thousand seeds to a shipment to these isolated communities through Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks.
On the whole, the organization has donated tens of thousands of seeds to British Columbians through this service over the past six months, and plans to continue offering free seeds to those in need.
Planter box kits
As the country experiences rises in average food prices during an economic downturn, a Village Vancouver board member spearheaded an initiative to create small DIY planter box kits for low-income and other Vancouverites. The service is designed particularly for those who may prefer to garden at home for health reasons, but lack access to home gardening space to grow even a few herbs and vegetables.
“The goal is to ultimately make 100 or more planter boxes available to community members for free,” says Moster.
The project is still seeking some additional funding, but it is anticipated that the remainder of the needed seed money – as well as a full compliment of kits that include soil, seeds and an easy-to-assemble box – will be available soon.
More gardening opportunities
The pandemic has ushered in a renaissance of sorts in local gardening, says Moster. This has also put additional pressure on groups like Village Vancouver to expand program offerings and community gardening opportunities.
“We’re always looking for more gardening space, especially with this increased demand for gardening.”
Luckily, opportunities are popping up. Nine temporary raised garden beds at the Robson Community Garden (at the corner of Robson and Broughton streets) recently became available and are being cultivated by an intergenerational and multi-cultural group of Village Vancouver and West End Neighbourhood Food Network Urban Garden Club members.
The parking lot behind MLA David Eby’s community office on West Broadway just west of Macdonald Street will soon be home to new community planters, says Moster. And a new Village Vancouver seniors gardening project is enlisting seniors and others to help develop additional spaces.
Another exciting initiative in the works is Village Vancouver’s westside permaculture corridor, which will loosely connect several gardens from West Point Grey CC to Kits Community Centre and the Kits Point neighbourhood. Supported by a three-year Greenest City Grant, the string of gardens expands green space for perennials, native plants and pollinators, as well as for many additional green thumbs.
Students from the University of British Columbia’s Environmental Studies and Land and Food Systems faculties are working with Village Vancouver on the project, including identifying new potential garden spaces and developing educational signage and walking tours in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and possibly other languages.
Village Vancouver and West Point Grey CC plan to continue offering as many programs and opportunities to connect with the community as possible while the world moves through the pandemic.
“There has been a lot of change to manage,” says Moster, “but we know that now is also a great time to support community members as they explore the world of indoor and outdoor gardening.”
To get involved with a Village Vancouver community garden or program, contact Ross Moster at email@example.com. For gardening workshop updates and opportunities, visit westpointgrey.org/programs and @westpointgreycc.