A Lively East Van Ecosystem: The Brewery Creek Community Garden

by Jenny van Enckevort & The Food Connection

Nestled between Mount Pleasant Elementary School and Guelph Park — better known among locals as Dude Chilling Park — is one of East Vancouver’s hidden ecosystems: the Brewery Creek Community Garden. This thriving green space on East 7th Avenue is cushioned from the noise and traffic of the Broadway and Kingsway corridors. It’s a place where you’re likely to hear the sounds of kids making the most of recess, people playing tennis, birds singing, and folks of all stripes enjoying the urban outdoors.

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This is where we are rising to the challenges of tending a community garden plot, for Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House and The Food Connection. We have a dream location with full sun exposure, and we’ve done plenty of experimenting to learn what food will thrive in these growing conditions.

This year we’ve decided to create an herb garden, which will provide fresh ingredients for the many types of free food workshops we offer at the Neighbourhood House. We’re choosing perennial plants that will grow for many months, return year after year, and support sustained harvesting. We also want to do our part to help conserve water.

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To our surprise, the first thing that really takes off is wheat, which grows tall and sturdy through early spring. Our crop will be too small to produce flour, so today we harvest just the grains while the plants are still green. The young wheat grains are called freekeh, and they pack a nutritious punch. We’ll toast the freekeh, and add it to salads for a crunchy texture and nutty flavour.

In the early evening, people are dropping by to water their own garden plots, and one woman asks if I’m watering the wheat. I show her how the stalks are perfect for transplanting to create row dividers and shade. Their roots will also help to hold soil and water for a happy garden.

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Next, we’re ready for the yogurt pots we’ve saved up over the winter. They’re made from #5 plastic, making them reusable without emitting chemicals into food. We’ve already poked the bottoms full of holes, and now we fill them with dirt. We space them evenly through the garden, then sink them into the ground, leaving the brims showing. Each time we water the garden, we’ll fill up these little reservoirs, which will distribute water to our plants’ roots, keeping the soil moist even in the heat of summer.

A few members of the Little Diggers Gardening Club come by to check on the progress of their garden patch. They find their own plants by reading names aloud, and compare their growth against their friends’ seedlings.

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Back in our own plot, we’re ready to plant the fragrant seedlings we selected during this year’s Stone Soup Festival. We also plant seeds we’ve saved from our home gardens, like nasturtium and calendula. Then we scatter some red clover seeds for ground cover that will attract pollinators and beneficial insects.

With my hands in the dirt, I chat with people who are searching the grounds for ideas to bring home with them, or taking photos of plants they want to learn about and identify. I’m excited to tell them about our plans for the food we’re growing.

For our juicy chicken workshop later this month, we’ll be ready to pick thyme, chives, rosemary, and sage. When summer is in full swing, we’ll hand-select leaves of mint, lemon balm, and chamomile to create garden cocktails with our own naturally fermented sodas.

We finish the day’s work by putting rakes, shovels, and watering cans back into the shed, surveying this pocket of fertile land, and leaving at sundown with a sense of satisfaction and anticipation.

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