New West’s Biggest Little Garden program has attracted attention from the LA Times, which has published an article about the innovative community gardening initiative. The program is the brainchild of Fraserside Living Well Program director Diane Cairns, who had to find a solution to increase local food production in a city where 70% of us live in apartment buildings. She wanted to revive the old ‘Victory Garden’ concept of growing your own fruits and vegetables – and sharing the harvest with your neighbours – but how could it take off when so few residents had backyards?
There was only one solution: Bring the dirt to the people. Despite having no gardening background, Cairns designed a compact, three-tiered planter made of a handsome (and rot-resistant) cedar — just the right size for a small balcony. The 32-by-8-by-8-inch planters are narrow enough to squeeze through small apartment doors, raised high enough so no stooping is required for planting and picking, and built with a trellis on the top tier to support bean and squash vines.The garden, soil and plants are delivered for free to whomever opts into the program. In return, participants promise to water and weed and to share leftover produce with neighbors.Cairns hoped to have eight to 10 pilot Biggest Little Gardens in 2007, but the project was so popular in that first year, she wound up with 54. Two years later, 108 gardens are in operation and Cairns has secured funding for an additional 70 in the coming growing season. A community service group in nearby Surrey is planning to copy the program.
The program is completely free for low-income apartment-dwellers in New Westminster, however you must sign a contract in which you pledge to care for the plants and ensure the produce doesn’t go to waste – any excess must be given to family or friends or donated to the food bank via New West’s Plant A Row, Grow A Row program administered out of St. Aidan’s Church.
I’m one of the lucky ones with a yard in New West, but since spotting the planter and reading about the program last year, I’ve thought I’d like to buy one for my back deck! Those who don’t qualify for the free program can buy a planter for $175 (proceeds go back to the program).
For more info the Biggest Little Garden, visit Fraserside’s website.