Please Dont Steal

Harvesting Community Garden Roots

This week we thawed out from that crazy November snowfall and I jumped at the window of opportunity to dig up the rest of the root veggies from the community garden plot.   It was a very beautiful day at the garden.  Even though the plots are a mess I found it quite romantic with the setting sun beaming through the skeletons of  our summer gardens and sky-high pampas grass.


It felt great to get out and dig in the soil, and harvesting is always fun.  While I was disappointed to only have a few pounds of potatoes, I did get a bunch more Gladiator parsnips and a ton of various beets that I didn’t expect.  I roasted up this bunch of roots for a family dinner tonight.

Now that the community plot is officially put to bed for the winter I wonder weather I want to keep up the space again next year.  I have enough room to grow a small variety of veggies at home and while I love gardening with the community members, it has lately been feeling more like a chore.  Much of the food at the gardens gets stolen, many say because of the part of town we are in (notorious for homelessness and drugs) but sadly, the folks that I’ve seen steal are (gasp) other gardeners or visitors in suits who drive Hondas and show off their knowledge of growing food by cutting off all my garlic scapes or plucking a pumpkin.  Mostly the thieves are foodies with a sense of entitlement and little concern for community.  So that sucks.


Then there’s the growing conditions.  The soil is poor and disease is rampant.  Without daily weeding the plots are soon overrun with buttercup, horsetail, bindweed and in some cases the dangerous giant hogweed.  This year I just wanted to grow squash.  I ended up planting 10 types of squash and got about 12-15 orange spaghetti squash and downy mildrew killed the rest.  I did also plant strawberries, potatoes, artichokes, tomatoes, beans, celeriac, beets, parsnips, peas, fennel, carrots, garlic, leeks, and kale, so I strayed from my focus and got a little of everything (except the celeriac which was a big failure).  It’s fun to bring home fresh veggies and I haven’t really shopped for any in the grocery for the last 5-6 months.  The number and variety of what is left after theft and disease is just a taste.  Despite a valiant effort–I added manure to the soil, a bacterial / fungal mix that we bought at the farmers market and compost compost compost–the soil still lacked nutrition.  This combined with the fact that disease is so quickly spread in a community garden space that I fought rust, mildew and blight daily.  I certainly appreciate the fresh food I brought home, yet this alone is not worth the effort when I can buy the like at the farmers market each week.

Even if I never brought home a veggie I would still be a member because I joined the garden in the first place for the community.  I wanted to learn from others, connect and share.  In my mind perhaps I had the idea of a communal gardening group of people laughing and sharing huge baskets of fresh produce, while tending their lush green plots and beautifying the neighbourhood.  The reality is that you see most of the members only at the monthly work parties.  For most of the year I went to the work parties religiously.  A few of the other members have the same commitment, a few.  It’s great to see some of them, sometimes, but I wouldn’t call it a community.  There is rallying around the condom/needle clean up and stopping the crazy dude from pouring rat poison on our plants, but it’s not quite what I had imagined.  I’ve made a few friends at the garden though, so that’s something.

Now, as another year comes to a close I’ll reflect on whether or not it’s worth the effort or if perhaps there is another group or space that would be a better fit for me.  For all the reasons above I almost gave up my membership last year, but something kept me there.  The promise of something new, perhaps.  Maybe this year some new people with join and keep me company at the work parties.  Or perhaps I’ll get to run a seed starting project with the new greenhouse or learn something new.  Who knows?  But if I’ve learned just one thing about being a member of a community garden, it’s that it is about a whole lot more than just growing food.

About the Author : Stephanie RoseAn artistic gardener aiming to feed the body & soul through an urban potager garden & a community veggie plot in Vancouver.View all posts by Stephanie Rose

  1. kitsapFG
    kitsapFGDecember 6,10

    I think I would find those aspects of a community garden very frustrating. Do you have enough room on your property to grow a reasonable sized garden? If so, I would opt for that.

    It’s sad that the thieving is largely from those that have other options. At least if it was feeding someone that otherwise would be hungry it would feel less wasteful and sad.

  2. vrtlarica
    vrtlaricaDecember 7,10

    It looks like you have joined the community garden for all the right reasons, but what you want from it is just not there.
    It is always good to have enough land around the house to grow a veggie garden, but the community garden gives you the opportunity to find people with same interests and passion. I wish you more luck in next gardening season!

  3. Robin
    RobinDecember 7,10

    We are in the process of trying to secure a plot at a community garden for much needed additional garden space. I have visited there a few times and did notice that one person had a sign regarding thieves. I had asked a gardener there if there was a lot of stealing. He said on occasion people will steal at night. Many of the plots there have high sturdy fences with locked gates. We have picked a few abandoned plots with fences and gates that we would like…..time will tell if we get a spot and how we make out there. I will find out in January.

    I agree with Laura regarding who is doing the stealing. I find it amazing that they steal in the day time right in front of other people…so sad.

  4. Kat White
    Kat WhiteDecember 7,10

    What about taking a break from the more labor intensive veggie gardening and go wild this year? Plant a mix of wildflowers and let them do their thing for a while.

    I don’t think the community garden here really became a “community” until they participated in the Berkeley study on attracting native bees to the garden. Having a common project really seemed to help.

  5. Stevie
    StevieDecember 7,10

    KitsapFG – No, home isn’t big enough to grow much. I have two raised beds and wine barrels, but not enough room to grow half of what I would like to grow.

    Robin – we are not allowed signs, fences, gates, or locks – the project is meant to beautify the neighbourhood. Our best defense is shaming people who steal but that is by and large uneffective (I suppose they have no shame to beging with).

    Kat – Great idea – I could let it run wild with squash and see how that works. The garden I belong to is likely the biggest and the oldest in the country. We have bees, a heritage orchard, fish ponds, bird nesting areas, a solar house, and more. We just built a greenhouse this year, and if I can start a seed starting education program with the gardeners, that may foster some community. But running projects with that group does feel like pulling teeth – there is a universal lack of passion.

  6. Daphne Gould
    Daphne GouldDecember 8,10

    Too bad they don’t let you put up fences. Most of the community gardens around here are fenced. If I joined a community garden I’d be hoping for the community of it and meeting other gardeners.

  7. Laura
    LauraDecember 10,10

    I have seriously thought about joining a local community garden, not for the space but for that sense of community. I haven’t yet done it, because I’m still overwhelmed by what I’m working on at home. It’s too bad to hear that the experience wasn’t as imagined for you. Rat poison? WTH?! Theives in suits? What nerve!

  8. Sharron Clemons
    Sharron ClemonsDecember 21,10

    It looks like you have joined the community garden for all the right reasons, but what you want from it is just not there. It is always good to have enough land around the house to grow a veggie garden, but the community garden gives you the opportunity to find people with same interests and passion. I wish you more luck in next gardening season!

  9. Winifred Newman
    Winifred NewmanDecember 24,10

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Manure Tea Gardening, Mike Long. Mike Long said: Harvesting Community Garden Roots | Garden Therapy […]

  10. Eschelle
    EschelleJanuary 13,11

    i think the only safe Vancouver community garden is in west van by ambleside lol… shame….

  11. TC
    TCOctober 24,11

    I’ve been asked to serve on a community garden committee as an advisor. I’m a master gardener. The CG is in the planning stages now, we’ll see what happens next.

    • Stevie
      StevieOctober 25,11

      I hope that this outline of my experience helps when planning your garden, TC.

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