Community gardens and research flourish

July 13, 2006, volume 36, no. 6
By Carol Thorbes



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Fertile minds are hatching more than groundbreaking research at SFU Burnaby.

SFU's community garden has almost doubled in size in the last three years. It's a real turnaround, says Erika Auton, who works in the VP-students and international office.

“Up until three years ago, we had trouble filling 60 plots. Another 40 had become overgrown from lack of use but I've had Facilities resurrect them to accommodate the sudden increase in interest.”

The garden is overflowing with luscious vegetables and vibrant flowers.

Auton, who in addition to her regular job is the community garden's manager, speculates that a desire for fresh veggies is behind the garden's uncharacteristic blossoming.

The 100 plots, measuring 2.5 by 10 metres each, collectively carve out a secluded refuge on the south side of campus, near the south Sciences building.

Students living on campus started the community garden in the late 1970s. Student Services took over its management five years ago, allowing faculty, staff and neighbours, as well as students, to rent plots for $20 each annually.

Nadine Chambers, the coordinator of the SFU women's centre, has up to 15 volunteers cultivating tons of greens in the centre's two plots to help feed needy students and downtown eastside residents.

“Last year, our first year here, we produced about 150 pounds of greens for downtown eastside mothers in the Sheway YWCA project,” says Chambers. “It was our way of supporting these mothers' development of healthy food choices for their kids.”

Jawad, a resident in SFU's new UniverCity community and an architect from Iraq, is relishing the experience of getting down and dirty in the garden's mushroom manure- enriched soil.

“We had farmers to care for our community garden in Iraq,” says Jawad. “This experience of growing vegetables with my own hands is wonderful.”

SFU molecular geneticist Evelyn Davidson and SFU 1983 education grad Dean Lamont are among the garden's long-term growers.

Davidson, a seven-year transplant from Newfoundland who cultivates primarily perennial flowers and herbs in her plot, loves the ambience. “It's a great networking opportunity,” says Davidson. “People chat about what each other is growing and trade gardening secrets.”

Lamont is one of the community garden's pioneers. Other plot owners often pick Lamont's brain for tips on organic gardening, permaculture (annually regenerating crops) and food waste recycling.

Like Davidson, Lamont loves the camaraderie.

“I love the way this community garden brings together people from different social backgrounds, cultures and ages. There are mothers with young children, retired folks and newcomers to our community who grow pretty mean bok choy.”

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