“I’ve got zucchinis!” shouts gardener Phyllis Wiebe in surprise—it’s been a cold, wet year to grow summer veggies.
But Wiebe’s purple beans and carrots sprouted okay, and her first crop of mystery onion—Egyptian or Prairie, depending who you ask—stand among the tallest plants in the Houston Community Garden.
Looking around the 35 raised beds and several tilled rows here at Copeland Ave. and 3rd Street, a healthy mix of beets, kale, potatoes, herbs, flowers and other greens is growing well despite the cold.
And sharing a fresh lunch on picnic tables at the edge of the garden, there is also a healthy mix of people.
Volunteers from the Dungate Community Forest came to the Aug. 25 barbecue to present donations to the garden, the Moricetown ski club, the Houston Spanx fastball team. A scholarship also went to a Houston Secondary graduate, Jordyn Saretsky.
Russell Tijoe, a director at Dungate community forest, said a few words to start off the barbecue.
Tiljoe told the gardeners that what they are doing harkens back to a time when people lived off the land, and that those people survived so that we could.
The garden is a good idea, he added, especially for young people.
“They get to see where food comes from,” he said. “It doesn’t only come from the grocery store.”
Like the garden, the Dungate community forest east of Houston faced a tough season—low timber prices meant this is the first summer in three years they’ve been able to present so many donations.
But today, it’s clear that both the forest and the garden are thriving in a tough climate.
New perennial beds line the garden this year, which is now filled to capacity. Fresh, graffiti-style letters spell “Community” on the side of the garden kiosk, and the composting toilet is working—a big improvement on walking to the outhouse at the Northside park baseball diamond across the street.
The beds, the kiosk, even the toilet were all planned, planted, or painted by volunteers.
Started by Houston Link to Learning in 2002, the garden runs a mix of informal education programs along with its raised beds and market garden.
Belinda Lacombe, a literacy coordinator with Houston Link to Learning, said the garden grew up as a way to support families who don’t have enough time to help their kids do homework or improve their own literacy skills because they are too busy working to put food on the table.
Each family who has a bed at the garden pays for it by volunteering, Lacombe said. Gardeners help sell produce at the farmer’s market, teach workshops like basket-weaving, or help to plan and build things like the garden kiosk.
With every task, she said, there are opportunities to build literacy skills, whether it’s using fractions to design a shed or designing posters to advertise garden events.
Watching it all grow up from her house across the street is Pat Cox, a teacher at Houston Secondary.
“I love it,” she said. “I get to see it every day.”
Not only does Cox see good things growing out her window, she said she also sees it in her classroom, where she knows some of her students are eating well thanks to the garden.
Arranging events like the BBQ, the upcoming Harvest Festival, and even a set of Tai Chi lessons this summer is the garden’s coordinator, Sandy Wetterstrom.
The garden is lucky to have sponsors like the Bulkley Valley Credit Union, the Vancouver Foundation, Dungate and others, she said.
With their help, she said, the garden can make it easier for volunteers to join. During the Tai Chi sessions, for example, the garden arranged childcare so that young mothers could join in—something they would like to do again next year.
Gardeners also pitch in to help each other, she said, sharing beds or watering one another’s plants if someone is away.
An avid gardener herself, Wetterstrom said that at the simplest level, the garden is about providing simple, healthy food choices, whether that means home-grown potatoes trying a new dish of crispy kale.
“There’s just no comparison to eating a carrot you’ve just picked from your own garden,” she said.