1981 – The Garden’s Beginnings
Red Celery In the Sunshine – An Urban Eden: transforming hopeless backyard hardpan into a lush organic plot
A story about City Farmer’s Demonstration Food Garden
Article and photography by Michael Levenston
Originally published in Harrowsmith Magazine
April/May 1984 Number 54
It is little more than a stone’s throw from downtown, a means of measure quite appropriate for the volunteers digging, weeding and discarding rocks from the painstakingly created soil that covers the sunny backyard of the Vancouver Energy Information Centre. Here, beautifully illustrated signs identify plants and techniques for gardeners who pass by a cold frame, a large solar greenhouse, a three-bin composting system and 30 raised beds filled with healthy vegetables. Occasionally, a train clangs by almost close enough to touch, overwhelming all the other city sounds and reminding the gardeners that not long ago, this little chunk of Eden was not much better suited to growing food than the railway siding next to it.
The garden began to take shape on a warm fall Sunday in 1981, when 11 people met in the backyard of the newly opened centre at Maple Street and Sixth Avenue, overlooking the Burrard Bridge, which spans False Creek and leads to downtown Vancouver. Their spirits high, the volunteers marked the proposed boundaries of the beds and then lunged at the earth with their garden tools like so many horticultural break dancers. After 10 minutes, only one sturdy soul with a pickaxe was left chipping at the cement-like ground. A chemical smell brought the rest of the dejected gardeners to their knees. Was it machine oil, paint thinner or something worse? No one could be sure. Neighbours said that the previous tenants had fixed their trucks in the yard and dumped waste liquids there.