NORTH VANCOUVER—When CUPE 389 members at Delbrook Community Centre started composting waste from their small staff kitchen and one public kitchen last August, not only did they divert over 1000 pounds of waste from the landfill, the compost was used to grow vegetables that helped feed the hungry.
The composting program was done as a pilot project that utilized an old method where waste ferments inside a sealed system, so there is no odour. The compost turns into a sludge that is then put outdoors in a secondary container.
“Once we generated compost, we wanted to use it,” said Mark Raasch, CUPE 389 member and chair of North Van Rec's Green Team. They decided a staff garden was the way to go. The Staff Garden Project was created to encourage and educate staff on how they can grow healthy and sustainable food.
Raasch says that they wanted to focus on staff. “Being in a garden with someone gives you the opportunity to share and get to know each other. It creates camaraderie, motivates people, and makes them feel better about their job,” says Raasch.
The group received a grant from Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and funding from CUPE 389.
“We think it’s a great program and we hope it expands to other community centres,” says CUPE 389 president Cindy McQueen. “It’s a great way to get to know each other at work and to build community both on the job and with neighbours.”
The staff garden is a spot where neighbours stop to chat and share gardening tips, and even plants. An elderly neighbour stopped by with her dog and invited Raasch to see her garden. She gave him a tour and he left with a cucumber plant for the staff garden. “There’s something about gardeners – they want to share everything,” says Raasch.
Children from Delbrook Preschool also participate in the community garden. They coloured small pots and then started plants in them.
Besides being a spot where community can get together, the garden is also a place to educate. Gardeners put stakes out to show what the plants are so children (and adults) can learn about what food looks like when it is growing.
This year the garden produced over 85 pounds of produce including cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, pumpkins, tomatoes and herbs – much of it being donated to needy individuals in North Vancouver – all grown without pesticides and fertilizers.
Ultimately, gardens are all about the food that is grown. “Food just brings people together,” explains Raasch.
Raasch points out that farming organically means costs go down, the land refurbishes itself naturally, and you don’t have to worry so much about weeding and pests. When plants that co-exist and help each other are grouped together (like corn, beans and peas, and squash) they fortify the soil. “Nature takes care of itself if you let it,” says Raasch.