How I learned to love community gardening

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Program assistant Sam Cheuk "giving it a go" at the Regent Park Community Garden

Like most people working from an office, I get a palpable itch to be out and about while envying all that golden cascade of sunlight peeking through the office shades in summertime. Murphy’s Law dictates that when I do get the chance to be out and about for work, as I had last week jumping location to location to see one of the grants I oversee in action, the weather would refuse to cooperate.

I'm currently overseeing The Stop’s New Canadians Go Greenbelt! grant, run by Peter Mitchell, one of the most active Greenbelt Champions the Foundation's worked with. At the time I joined Peter on-site, his team had already completed the delivery of ethno-cultural crop seedlings: bok choy, napa cabbage, Chinese and Indian eggplants, Indian and Thai hot peppers, okra and bitter melon, to 14 community gardens across the GTA. These community gardens—often situated in ethnically-mixed, low-income neighbourhoods—are meant to help subsidize food costs and increase access to fresh, healthy vegetables for neighbourhood residents.   

As I was saying, be careful what you wish for. If it wasn’t torrential downpour, then it was Louisiana-esque humidity chaperoned by 30+ celsius heat, although seeing the gardeners in action helped a whole lot in stopping me from complaining too much. They were under the same sky as I was, the same weather, and while I chatted with garden coordinators and snapped pictures, the youth gardeners, old gardeners, the middle-aged parent gardeners who were there for 15 minutes rushing to plant their share of seedlings just before starting their evening shift, toiled in rain and in the brutal heat, all while taking the time to answer my many farming questions. 

The more conversations I’d had with a few on-site community garden partners, the more humbled and squishy-hearted I got from having the opportunity to work on this project. At the Etobicoke site, the garden is linked to Rexdale Community Health Centre, where on the day of my visit it was celebrating Jour Vert, and the Health Centre had over 30 child/teen volunteers cart soil to plot beds, plant seedlings, and learn about community farming. At another site in Parkdale, the fence of the garden was freshly painted by local artists.

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From left to right: Melissa Luk, Andrea Manica, Caitlin Taguibao, three Parkdale artists who contributed their mad skills to beautifying the neighbourhood

Parkdale’s Milky Way Alleyway garden came about when Tish Carnat, an ESL teacher in the neighbourhood, found out that her students couldn’t afford fresh vegetables when teaching them common nouns necessary for day-to-day interactions. Carnat essentially Erin Brockovich-ed her way into creating the garden by tapping all resources available in the neighbourhood and partnering with Greenest City, a community environmental charity.

The trips to the garden reminded of a self that I had forgotten about when I grew up in Hong Kong, namely the vital connection between food and community, and the attendant joy that accompanies feasting with family and strangers alike.

I encourage you to see what this community gardening is all about, lend a hand, grow some veggies for your family, visit one of these locations in your neighbourhood or contact me (Sam) at scheuk (at) greenbelt.ca for additional information.

Here are some GTA community gardens to get you started!

And stay tuned! I'm currently working with Peter Mitchell, the fine folks at Regent Park Community Food Centre Canada, and community gardens across the GTA to run an Iron Chef-themed cook-off competition. Scheduled for harvest time, the competition will celebrate the harvest and will help feed the Regent Park community; TBD celebrity guests will judge, and the winning entry will earn a guided trip led by Peter to a secret location in the Greenbelt for the team and its community gardeners!

September 12th, save the date! 

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Sam Cheuk

--Program Assistant

 

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