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Westcoast Families - - Families - By Stephanie Mac­don­ald

oh, the mor­ti­fy­ing mo­ment that you learn that your chil­dren be­lieve all car­rots are cre­ated baby-sized. Or, when you no­tice your child is vis­i­bly re­pelled by the “weird lunch” of the stu­dent sit­ting next to her. You think to your­self, “I’m a con­sci­en­tious par­ent, how did this hap­pen?”We have come a long way from the frozen and canned di­ets of the past, but in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, our kids are usu­ally re­moved from the pro­duc­tion of their foods. We feed our kids or­ganic foods, whole foods, we teach them to eat their veg­gies from the be­gin­ning, but there are so many ben­e­fits to work­ing with your kids to grow even a part of what goes on your ta­ble. When you join a com­mu­nity gar­den, even if you have a back yard of your own, all the ben­e­fits of grow­ing your own food and in­volv­ing your kids mul­ti­ply ex­po­nen­tially. Be­com­ing part of a com­mu­nity gar­den is a great way for peo­ple who don’t have ac­cess to their own land to grow their own food, but the pos­i­tive ef­fects of com­mu­nity gar­den­ing go so far be­yond that. Kids, es­pe­cially, can learn and grow from the ex­pe­ri­ence in many dif­fer­ent ways. Kids love learn­ing from do­ing. What may be a dry lec­ture on farm­ing in school can be­come a fas­ci­nat­ing learn­ing ex­er­cise when you can get your hands dirty and watch some­thing grow. Pa­tience and the science of plant bi­ol­ogy both come to your child nat­u­rally when they are in­volved in the process of grow­ing things. Suc­cess and fail­ure are all part of gar­den­ing, and fig­ur­ing out why the kale went gang­busters but the toma­toes never ripened teaches both kids and adults to learn from ex­pe­ri­ence, and to study and ex­per­i­ment to pro­duce op­ti­mal re­sults. One key ben­e­fit to gar­den­ing within a com­mu­nity is the ex­change of in­for­ma­tion be­tween gar­den­ers from dif­fer­ent cul­tures, gen­er­a­tions, and lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence. Most gar­den­ers love talk­ing, teach­ing what they know, and commiserating on the tough as­pects of trial and er­ror in a gar­den; and kids love ask­ing ques­tions. Dif­fer­ent cul­tures can min­gle in a gar­den and kids can see the types of things that other peo­ple are grow­ing. It opens up their eyes to the world of food be­yond what they are used to, and may even ex­pand their palate. Even if grow­ing veg­eta­bles isn’t your thing, there are many other food­pro­duc­ing co­op­er­a­tive projects all over the Lower Main­land, in­clud­ing a com­mu­nity orchard and berry patch near Trout Lake, a gar­den of in­dige­nous ed­i­ble plants near Joyce Sky­Train, and a per­ma­cul­ture food for­est grow­ing in North Van­cou­ver. In a com­mu­nity gar­den, par­tic­u­larly on “work party” days, fam­i­lies can work with other fam­i­lies and in­di­vid­u­als for the com­mon up­keep of the gar­den, and this shows young peo­ple how fun and re­ward­ing it is to work to­gether as a team. This is a great way to meet, con­nect, and en­gage with your neigh­bours, and the re­sult­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion strength­ens the com­mu­nity as a whole. Com­mu­nity gar­dens turn neg­a­tive spa­ces into pos­i­tive spa­ces, re­duc­ing crime, im­prov­ing the ur­ban ecosys­tem by fil­ter­ing rain­wa­ter, in­creas­ing oxy­gen and green space, and this pos­i­tive ef­fect is not limited to ur­ban com­mu­nity gar­dens. More and more, peo­ple in tra­di­tion­ally agri­cul­tural ar­eas that are be­ing de­vel­oped are join­ing up to gar­den with other peo­ple in or­der to so­cial­ize, learn and take ad­van­tage of group tools, ma­te­ri­als and labour. Sur­rey is a good ex­am­ple of a city that was very agri­cul­tural but is now be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ur­ban­ized, and for­ward-think­ing city plan­ners are in­clud­ing lots of space for com­mu­nity-minded gar­den­ers of the fu­ture in their de­signs. “We are see­ing a slow but steady in­crease in de­mand for com­mu­nity gar­dens,” says Owen Croy, Sur­rey’s Man­ager of Parks. “We al­ready have four gar­dens on city park­land and out­side the Sur­rey city core, we have plans for more. We are also very open to peo­ple get­ting to­gether and propos­ing ad­di­tional gar­den space.” So even if you live out­side the city, or even if you have a back yard of your own, be­com­ing ac­tive in a com­mu­nity gar­den can en­hance the hap­pi­ness and well­be­ing of your whole fam­ily, while mak­ing your com­mu­nity stronger and a more friendly, healthy place to live. And if there isn’t a com­mu­nity gar­den near you, be a hero and start one! Your kids and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will thank you.

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