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Community rallies behind little plot of paradise

Two months ago a barren triangle of land lay behind some houses and across from an elementary school. Today, that land is better described as a little plot of paradise, abundant with assorted fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Two months ago a barren triangle of land lay behind some houses and across from an elementary school.

Today, that land is better described as a little plot of paradise, abundant with assorted fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Its been said it only takes one person to make a difference; in this instance, it only took one persons initiative to move mountains of soil and fertilizer.

Meet Zoe Lee.

The determined mother of three children who attend Homma elementary school planted the seed of an idea, which has grown into a lush community garden.

It may have started as my idea, but it quickly evolved into a community effort by parents, teachers, the parks department and city hall officials like Ian Lai (urban agriculture consultant), Arzeena Hamir (coordinator of Richmond Food Security Society) and Jim Kojima (president of the Steveston Community Society) along with many others, said Lee.

Before long, the city granted the group the permits it needed to develop a community garden across from the school south of Moncton Street and west of Railway Avenue.

(The garden) made it possible for the children of Homma elementary to learn how to produce food and develop a connection between that food and the process it undergoes to arrive on their plates. This was my motivation in establishing a garden.

But the garden plots are not just for the students. They are also rented out to members of the community, many of whom appeared hungry for the chance to grow their own food.

Arzeena Hamir, the coordinator for the Richmond food security society was not surprised that the plots snapped up quickly. An earlier survey found Steveston had the citys largest waiting list for community gardens, she noted.

Many of those who have rented these plots live in condominium complexes, apartment highrises and town houses with little or no green space.

The community garden allows those people a chance to exercise their green thumbs.

Also, with concerns about food security and health risks identified with imported foods, the plots give people some control over what they eat.

Currently, there is an 18-month waiting list to acquire a garden plot across the Lower Mainland, city sources explained.

In Richmond, a 10 x 20 section of soil costs $40 per year, which includes access to gardening tools and water. For an additional $100, the city will provide wood and brackets to properly separate the plots.

The Homma garden consists of 60 plots of soil (10 of which belong to the school) and a common shed, which holds the gardening tools that can be used by all gardeners.

Each plot shares a unique reflection of its owner, and testifies to the diversity of people and backgrounds that you might find as you stroll through.

People are friendly and quick to talk about their new gardens. Barb has three children who attend Homma. She explained that growing the garden and learning how to live off the land has been a wonderful experience for her and her children.

In the spring, Homma students had a total of 23 classes in which they are taught the fundamental aspects of plant growth and gardening. They also spent time in the garden planting, weeding and regularly irrigating the plots.

The benefits that arise out of having a garden are multiple, she added. The school benefits by teaching its students that a large amount of food can be grown in a relatively small space; the community benefits by having organic, locally-grown produce to buy.

Moreover, students enjoy a fun activity that promotes bonding, while everyone learns about the benefits of recycling and composting.

Meredith, a plot renter, was busy pulling weeds on the day this reporter visited the gardens.

She explained that she grew up on a farm and was taught to grow and buy locally. A few years ago, she moved into the city and bought a home, but the backyard was very shaded and not conducive to a garden.

More recently, she moved into a condo, further inhibiting her gardening urge. Now, with her community garden plot, she is not only growing food, shes also cultivating friendships.

Meredith says she chats more to fellow plot renters than neighbours in her condo.

That neighbourly atmosphere was mentioned by all gardeners present.

Like Meredith, Michael and Jennifer live in a condo, which hinders them from partaking in their favorite passtime. They moved to Canada from Portland, Oregon three years ago, in part, because of the nature-oriented atmosphere here.

Moseley, another gardener, grew up in Trinidad and Tobago and reminisces about his life there. He would wake up at 6 a.m. to catch mangoes as they fell from the tree, he said with a sincere grin. He had been on a waiting list for two years before this opportunity presented itself.

Moseley acknowledged that vandalism might become an issue when his vegetables were ready to harvest, but if the hungry or needy take from his garden, so be it.

The Homma garden has taken off so well, the city is considering developing a second community garden on the north side of the Steveston Community Center at 4111 Moncton Street. Like the Homma garden, its sister location will need to come up with $20,000 for the land accessories. People interested in getting involved are asked to call the Steveston Community Society at 604-238-8080.