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Downtown Eastside grandmas plant seeds, grow more than garden vegetables

The Urban Farming Poh-Pohs are a group of grandmothers and older women who grow vegetables in raised beds on a plot of land at Jackson and East Hastings in Vancouver.

In a Downtown Eastside community garden, a group of grandmother gardeners love their vegetables — and the vegetables love them right back.

For two growing seasons, more than a dozen older women from the Vancouver neighbourhood have been growing bok choy, watercress, tomatoes and other vegetables in raised beds on a plot of land at the corner of Jackson and East Hastings.

While the garden started out in part to provide fresh produce for seniors living in a neighbourhood where more than half the grocery stores have closed in recent years, it blossomed into something more.

Women who started out as strangers became friends as they shared stories and got to know each other by gardening, weeding, harvesting and cooking.

Their camaraderie has been recorded in a podcast called Roots and Seeds .

For 2020, the physical distancing requirements of the novel coronavirus pandemic meant the urban farmers couldn’t sow heritage seeds in the garden as they intended, said Kathleen Flaherty, podcast co-writer with Kathy Feng.

But Flaherty is hopeful the women may be able to start planting by August.

“A lot of these plants have a short growing season,” she said. “I have a little bit of optimism about that.”

The garden is planted by the women in Urban Farming Poh-Pohs (poh-poh means grandmother or elderly woman in Cantonese).

In the podcast, the poh-pohs talk mostly in Cantonese and Mandarin which is translated. They recount the challenge of not being able to speak English when they first arrived in Canada. But most aren’t complainers, said narrator Kathy Feng. They have become philosophical over time about adjusting to a new life in Vancouver.

Being part of the gardening grandmothers is important to them, said one poh-poh.

“If you have any things that make you unhappy or that you struggle with, find someone to talk about it and it will be reduced,” she said. “Especially now since I joined the garden, it’s much better.”

They also cite how much they like growing vegetables. One grandmother pointed out that since she grew up in the countryside, she learned how to grow vegetables as a youngster.

Yu Li, speaking in English, said she liked gardening and growing vegetables because of the flowers that she used to bring into her parents’ house.

“The flowers they have life. You love them, they love you,” she said and burst into laughter.

The other gardening poh-pohs include Wai Yu Chan, Hui Qing Chen, Ya Qin Wan, Rui Lian Xian, Hui Juan Xie, Yu Rong Li, Yu Ying Guan, and Ai Xia Zhang.

One of the gardeners cited how important it was to provide fresh vegetables to seniors living on fixed incomes.

“The seniors in Chinatown don’t have much money so I don’t have much fresh food,” she said. “A lot of the food seniors get at the food bank is not fresh and sometimes expired. At the garden, I get fresh vegetables.”

When vegetables are ready to harvest, the seniors meet and divide the bounty equally.

Sometimes, narrator Feng said, they sell vegetables at the farmer’s market or get together to make dumplings.

One woman said they can meet friends while gardening “and learn to communicate with each other. For example, Mrs. Quan, she’s from the south and I’m from the north, the distance is so far. Now we are friends and can communicate. Friendship is very important as seniors — so we don’t get lonely.”

The poh-pohs are eminently practical.

“If we don’t have the garden, then we’d just be on our phones or TV and we wouldn’t even get exercise.”

They also value their gardening friends highly.

“This experience of everyone communicating with each other and caring for each other is very hard to come by,” said one of the women. “So I cherish it.”

As the narrator said to end the podcast: “It starts with a simple act of planting a few seeds but the harvest is friendship and community.”

The gardening project is a collaboration between the Carnegie Seniors Program , led by Doris Chow, and the DTES Neighbourhood House Seniors Program , led by Simin Sun.

The Roots and Seeds podcast, with interviews by Veronique West, is available in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Details at playwrightstheatre.com.

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Grow Your Own Organic Vegetable Garden

Grow Your Own Organic Vegetable Garden
Grow Your Own Organic Vegetable Garden

Organic systems recognize that our health is directly connected to the health of the food we eat and, ultimately, the health of the soil.

Here are some of the main features of organic growing:

– Organic growing severely restricts the use of artificial chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
– Instead, organic growers rely on developing a healthy, fertile soil and growing a mixture of crops.
– Genetically modified (GM) crops and ingredients are not allowed under organic standards.

Going organic may mean that you have to make a trade-off between glossy, same same supermarket looks with better tasting crops that aren’t perfect in shape or size, but many gardeners think this is a price worth paying. You’ll be able to grow different crops that are always relatively expensive to buy in supermarkets and at farmers markets and, growing your own vegetables is both fun and rewarding.

Read more… →