Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture

The Beginnings: Strathcona Community Garden

Media Images - Slide Show from 1984 - 1985

City Farmer and the Strathcona Community Garden

Proposal for a Federal Canada Works Grant - November 1984

Letter to Community Groups - Strathcona and Downtown East Vancouver - January 1985

Strathcona Community Garden Report on Activities for September 1985

Strathcona Community Garden Report on Activities for October 1985

Strathcona Community Garden Report on Activities for November 1985

Strathcona Community Garden Final Report

City Farmer and the Strathcona Community Garden

City Farmer (incorporated as Echo Energy Society) began in 1978 as a research and promotion organization, which published a newspaper about urban agriculture. Articles about community gardens were featured, our resource library grew with books and reports on the topic and in 1979 we attended the first American Community Garden Conference (ACGA) in Chicago. In the early 1980's the ACGA held their conference in Seattle and City Farmer organized a bus tour to Vancouver to show off our city's community gardens.

Through the early years, City Farmer looked for a Vancouver site where we might start a community garden. Because a number of our founding directors lived at 772 East Georgia in Strathcona, just blocks from the vacant lot that became Strathcona Community Gardens, that site was on our list.

During 1984, executive director Michael Levenston and volunteer Leslie Scrimshaw developed a "Centennial Year Community Gardens" plan (Vancouver's 100th year was in 1986) that included the development of the Strathcona site, and by the Fall of 1984 the plan was receiving media attention and support from the community.

In April of 1985 City Farmer received both a Federal 'Canada Works' grant and Vancouver Park Board approval for the development of the Strathcona vacant land. Leslie Scrimshaw was hired by City Farmer to help develop the gardens and was paid to do so from April 12, 1985 until January 31, 1986.

Below are some documents that detail some of the activities that took place during those early months in the history of the Strathcona Community Gardens.

The Strathcona gardeners set up their own non-profit society in 1986 and continue to run the gardens themselves to this day over 20 years later.

Proposal for a Federal Canada Works Grant - November 1984

The initial proposal included a wide number of community projects as part of a Centennial Project. (Vancouver's Centennial 1886 - 1986)

November 16, 1984
Employment Development Branch,
1080 Hornby Street,
Vancouver, B.C.

Enclosed is our proposal for the creation of a network of demonstration community gardens in the City of Vancouver. We want to create four new gardens and to develop the existing Vancouver Demonstration Food Garden into an educational facility for Vancouver school children.

In developing this proposal we have made presentations to the Vancouver Planning Commission and the Vancouver Parks Board. Both presentations were very well received. As well we have contacted numerous individuals and groups who have pledged their support. Community groups who have been contacted and want to work with us in garden development include Strathcona Community Association, Carnegie Centre, the ALRT local planning councils and the Multicultural society of Vancouver. Professionals willing to volunteer their skills include the UBC Landscape Architecture faculty and students, Architects, Structural Engineers and Film Makers resident in the Manhattan Coop, UBC Botanical Garden staff, Van Duen Garden staff and the Manager for the Vancouver School Board's special programs. In contacting various groups we have always received a positive response evident of the strong community support and interest in a project of this nature.

The most important legacy the project will provide is the gardens themselves.

Letter to Community Groups Strathcona and Downtown East Vancouver - January 1985

January 8th, 1985

Community Groups Strathcona and Downtown East Van.
Re. City Farmer's
Community Garden Project

City Farmer is a non-profit registered charity whose purpose is to help city people grow food. We are working to develop a network of community gardens in Vancouver. In working on this project, the Parks Board owned land between Strathcona Park and the Prior Street Fire Hall was identified as a potential community garden site.

As part of the first phase of our work we need community input. The UBC Landscape Architecture students have volunteered to develop some potential site plans as a class project. We would like to invite your group to send up to 3 representatives to a forum where the students can gather information on how you would like to see the site developed.

The forum will he at
Carnegie Centre,
Classroom 3, 401 Main Street,
January 16, 1985, 7.30 PM

A second feedback session will be held near the end of January for feedback with the students completing the project by the middle of February. The final product will be a potential site plan. City Farmer hopes to use this plan to help us negotiate a lease with the Parks Board for use of the land as a community garden.

If you feel there would be any potential benefit to the group you serve or if you yourself are interested in the idea please come to the forum to give your ideas.

If you have any questions please call 685 5832.

Strathcona Community Garden Report on Activities for September 1985

Leslie Scrimshaw (City Farmer employee) to Michael Levenston (Executive Director of City Farmer)

We had our first big work party at the garden on September 21 - last Saturday. Almost 50 people put in a few hours picking rocks - there were never more than 20 on the site at any one time though. Publicity included a big article in the Vancouver Sun - page 6 on Friday, a front page story in the EastEnder this Thursday, a picture in the Highland Echo I think and BCTV did some shots though I don't have a TV and I'm not sure it was aired. Finning Tractor donated the bulldozer, the Union of Operating Engineers the operator, Johnny of the Spot the can. We got a reduced rate from Ranger Transport for bringing in the dozer but still have to pay $240. The bill for that will likely arrive soon. I have pledges that can cover the cost if necessary if Koerner Foundation doesn't come through. (All bills paid by City Farmer.)

This weekend - Sat. 9-4 - Rock Party II kicks off with special guest Anne Stomborg from Avenue Farm Equipment. We're hoping for a better volunteer turn out. Wideworld - a Chinese TV show is going to do a special feature on the garden and we're frantically trying to find a Cantonese speaking person who's can go on TV. They'll be filming on Saturday.

We're hoping to involve school kids with planting the cover crops and I've made presentations to 2 schools about that. I hope to hear back on Friday.

Mary Rawson dropped down to the site on Saturday. She was thrilled with the event and told me that she had recommended the Centennial Commission fund us. The group decided to recommend $1000. So help should soon be on the way if it's not there already.

I need you to do a couple of tax receipts for us. One is for $20 for Mrs. E. S. The other is for $120 - donation in kind - for 2 Johnny-on-the-Spots. (City Farmer provided tax -deductible receipts.)

Strathcona Community Garden Report on Activities for October 1985

Leslie Scrimshaw (City Farmer employee) to Michael Levenston (Executive Director of City Farmer)

Practicum Student

City Farmer now has a practicum student from UBC School of Social Work. Marilyn Higham is our practicum placement. She is working on the Strathcona Community Garden Project. It is likely that her focus will be on involving people in the garden who live in the Raymer project.

Supervision involves weekly meetings with the student to develop the work program. The student will work on the project until April of 1986.

Cooperation with Other Groups

The Strathcona Community Garden Steering Committee has been working with a number of local community groups including the Fools Society, the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, ERIKA, and the Downtown Eastside Economic Development Society.

The Fool's Society has put in a proposal for the 'Not So Foolish Tree Planting Marathon', an event which would see 100 fruit and nut bearing trees planted at Strathcona Community Garden. The garden committee has agreed to provide technical assistance for this event.

ERIKA and DEEDS have approached the Strathcona Community Garden with ideas related to using the garden as a pre-employment training ground. We've met with both groups to discuss this and are very willing to assist in this endeavour as it would serve to help the garden as well as providing a good training ground for unskilled people.

School Involvement

We needed to plant a cover crop on the site of Strathcona Community Garden. It was prepared last month in two work parties where a bulldozer donated by Finning Tractor Co. and a tractor donated by Avenue Farm Equipment were used to begin to clear the site. The committee thought a good idea would be to invite school children to plant the crop.

The idea was presented at staff meetings at Strathcona and Seymour schools. Four ESL teachers, 2 from each school volunteered their students. A program was planned including a handout, small packets of seeds for each student and a box with one Plexiglas side per school planted with seeds and worms. The event took place Oct 22 and was a great success for the 70 students, the four teachers and the four community garden volunteers.

Our secondary hope is that recent immigrants will hear about the garden through their children. This group is the most difficult group to reach in the community as they do not have access to local media as they generally do not speak English or Chinese.


Our main focus this month has been on accessing the Chinese media. To this end, Jerry Lee, V. P. of SPOTA became the gardener's spokesperson for a TV program Worldview, aired on Oct 5. As well Chor Hon Wong, Joan Taylor and myself were special guests on the Chinese Hotline Show Oct 18. There has been some response from the Chinese community with several Chinese people calling to ask for garden plots.

Expert Advice

We've been seeking expert advice from a number of sources related to tree planting and acquiring appropriate plant materials. We met with Tom Hall, an orchard nurseryman who gave excellent advice on site preparation for fruit trees. As well we met with Tom Wheeler from UBC Botanical Garden's nursery.

Future Plans

We have several plans for the future.

1. The community garden group is becoming more autonomous and has a desire to become a legal entity in itself. This will be further discussed at the next steering committee meeting.

2. The committee has been meeting on a weekly basis since June. We have decided to change this format to make it more accessible. We will have one steering committee meeting a month and one community event a month for the next 4-5 months. Our first community event of this type will be Nov 5 at 7pm at 601 Keefer St, Activity Room 1. A slide show of garden progress to date will inform people of what's been done to date, a discussion will ensue, the film The Vacant Lot will be shown and refreshments served.

3. Capital expenses and raising the same. We have to install a water system and drainage system on the site as well as building a small tool shed, paths etc. We will be drafting a proposal for consideration by a number of sources. We also project a major community work day, sometime in March or April when the irrigation and drainage system will be installed.

4. In the near future we will be doing a formal survey of the site to put reference points on the ground of what we actually want to see on the ground. We already have a surveyor and equipment volunteered for this task.


I am very encouraged by the progress being made on the garden and am particularly impressed by the deep dedication of the people who have served on the steering committee.

Strathcona Community Garden Report on Activities for November 1985

Leslie Scrimshaw (City Farmer employee) to Michael Levenston (Executive Director of City Farmer)

1. Community Contact

A. Community Night - the first of a series of garden community nights was held on Nov 5 at Strathcona Community Centre. We showed the film "The Vacant Lot", a slide show of garden work, and heard a presentation by the sculptor of 3little house on the site. 30 people attended.

In debriefing the meeting later, we agreed that we tried to present too much - better next time. Our second meeting is scheduled for December 3rd. We plan to show the film "My Urban Garden" and involve people in discussion afterwards.

B. New Start - a program for native people with drug and alcohol abuse histories was contacted through Clara Augee by Marilyn our practicum student. New Start is quite interested in involving themselves in some way in the garden.

C. Ray Cam Community Centre and SPOTA - Marilyn continued making contact with various people in these groups and was invited to sit as a garden representative on the Ray Cam Board of Directors.

D. First United Church - I met with Barry Morris of First United and discussed with him various strategies of working in the community to involve the community in the garden. One idea seemed particularly appropriate considering the weather and the abilities of people in the immediate area and that was to start a small indoor garden in the church under lights. Barry is going to work the idea through.

2. Practicum Student

Continued throughout the month to supervise Marilyn on a weekly basis. In one of our training/supervision sessions we started an indoor garden under lights. We are thinking of using this simple, relatively inexpensive method to get people in various groups involved in the garden.

3. Physical Garden Work

A. Compost - We are continuing to gather compostable materials and have arranged for leaves to be dumped on the site as soil improves.

B. Survey - An initial survey establishing the boundaries of the allotment part of the garden has been completed. Over the Christmas period a more detailed survey will be completed will be completed to establish where irrigation lines will be.

4. Incorporation and Registration

The steering committee has decided to incorporate itself as a society and register as a charity. We are collectively defining our constitution right now and hope to complete this process prior to Christmas.

5. Conference

Marylyn and I attended the "For the Life of the Earth" conference on Whidby Island Nov 15-17. We made numerous contacts with people living in BC and the Maritime North West. Interest in our project was quite high with people seeing it as a physical manifestation of what was being discussed at the conference.

6. Future Plans

Dec 1 - participation at the Strathcona Fair

Dec 3 - second community night with "My Urban Garden".

December work: 1. complete newsletter, arrange translation and graphics
2. complete more detailed survey
3. complete constitution and other incorporation and registration documents
4. complete mid-term evaluation of practicum student

Strathcona Community Garden Final Report

Leslie Scrimshaw (City Farmer employee) to Michael Levenston (Executive Director of City Farmer) February 1986

The work of the Strathcona Community Garden project was divided into a number of phases as follows:

1. Introduction and Planning
2. Securing the Use of the Site
3. Soil Testing
4. Soil Improvement and Site Work
5. Public Relations
6. Transition to Self Sufficient Administration
7. Future Plans

Introduction and Planning

The idea of developing a community garden first needed to be presented to the community. During this time, from February through March, students from the School of Landscape Architecture participated by eliciting the ideas of the community and developing garden plans around these ideas. These plans, along with the community support gained through the development of the plans, formed the basis of a presentation to the Vancouver Parks Board.

Securing the Use of the Site

The site identified as a place for the community garden is the parcel of land bounded by Prior Street, Hawks Street, Malkin Ave. and the Fire Station. The Land has never been developed and was formerly used as a place for dumping fill. The Parks Board owns it. On April 1st, 1985, the community and City Farmer made a presentation to the Parks Board asking for the use of the land. At this initial presentation it was decided that the issue should be taken to the community in the form of a public hearing.

The public hearing was held on April 18th and the community came out and unanimously supported the garden. A final decision was made by the Parks Board at their May 6th meeting where a resolution was passed to lease to City Farmer the land for a trial period of two years.

Soil Testing

Soil testing was undertaken immediately after receiving the news of the lease. The University of B.C. Soil Science Dept. made their technicians and labs available to us for soil testing. Our major concern was the potential for high lead levels in the soil due to traffic volumes of Prior Street. As well, due to the history of the site, that is, its former use as a fill site, we were concerned about the possibility of other toxic chemicals.

Preliminary results suggested that high lead levels were indeed in the soil. However, the final results showed lead levels in the range of 8 - 22 ppm, levels quite easily managed through organic techniques. Despite this fact the media picked up the lead story resulting in a lot of media attention for the garden. This proved to be very positive.

Soil Improvement and Site Work

The community began work on the site quite quickly after receiving permission to use the site. A number of special events and programs occurred on the site involving not only the community but also a number of corporate sponsors.

1. Composting - Compost is a fundamental part of any good soil program for a garden. Composting on the site began almost immediately and continues to this day.

2. Test Plots - the condition of the soil at present on most of the site is poor and rather discouraging for a new gardener. A small area was double dug and planted in successive cover crops thus improving the organic matter content in the soil. These plots are now very good for gardening and a model for other Strathcona gardeners.

3. Rock Picking and Cultivation - The garden enlisted the help of Finning Tractor Co. and Avenue Farm Equipment Co. to open up the site and prepare it for planting. Two days of work cleared a substantial number of rocks from the site and prepared it for planting a winter cover crop. About 80 people were involved in these two events.

4. Cover Crops - Buckerfields Seed Company donated seeds for planting cover crops on the site. This gave us the opportunity not only to plant a cover crop, but also to involve local school children in the garden. Seventy ESL students from Seymour and Strathcona schools were involved in the event.

5. PNE Manure - We were fortunate this year to talk the PNE manure haulers into hauling the manure and barn sweepings to the garden site.

Public Relations

Early on in the development of the garden a public relations and information package was put together. This served to gain corporate support for the project and helped inform local residents. See the attached folder.

As well a newsletter was distributed door to door in the community. A second newsletter is just being completed now. This, along with the support we have received from the local media, have kept the people informed of garden progress.

Numerous meetings with various community groups have been held throughout the year. These have really begun to pay off as community groups are now coming forward to assist the gardeners both financially and organizationally.

Transition to Self Sufficient Administration

In December of 1985, the gardeners decided to form their own society. The incorporation documents were completed and submitted in mid January and work is progressing rapidly on an application for charitable status. A copy of the documents is attached for your files.

Summary and Future Plans

The success, both present and future, of the garden project depends on the continuing commitment of the community. I'd like to acknowledge some of the people who have been of great assistance to me during this year. They are Moira Quayle, UBC Prof.; Hans Shreyer, UBC prof.; the students involved in the design work; Gretchen Perk, Fool's Society; Marilyn Higham, Practicum Student; Joan Tayler, Graphic Artist; Lothar Kressf, Test Plot Gardener; Chor Hon Wong, translator; Randy Lake, surveyor and composter; Robert Ferguson, raised bed garden designer and many others too numerous to mention here.

Two major work events are planned for this year: the Pitch and Ditch Tournament, co sponsored by the Downtown Slowpitch League and the garden, and the Not So Foolish Tree Planting Marathon, co sponsored by the Fool's Society. These events will serve to install the irrigation system and plant the orchard. They require money and a number of groups have come forward to assist us with fund raising, including the Strathcona Community Centre and the Seva Service Society. It looks like an exciting year is ahead for the garden.

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October 2, 2007

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture