When Carole McCarthy saw the digging underway in a park not far from her Walnut Grove home, the Langley resident was delighted to learn a community garden was going in.
She has loved planting and raising her own crops since she was a child.
“I learned everything from my grandmother,” McCarthy said.
“My love of gardening comes from her.”
Built by the Rotary Club with the aid of a Township of Langley grant, Topham Community Garden opened at 21555 91 Ave. in 2012. Topham started with 42 garden plots and now has 62.
One of them is rented by McCarthy, who has become the garden co-ordinator.
“There’s a waiting list,” she warned, as she introduced a Times reporter to some of the other gardeners during a recent open house.
By consensus of her fellow gardeners , Topham member Denise Bul has the best-decorated plot.
“My kids helped,” Bul stressed, posing barefoot for a Times photo in front of a miniature botanical garden that includes lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, spinach and strawberries.
A few plots away, 10-year-old Laine Smith is growing kale, lettuce, cucumbers and more.
What’s his favourite crop?
For an annual fee of $40 for an 8’ by 8’ plot or $30 for a 4’ by 8’ plot, gardeners at Topham commit to keep their plots weed-free, planted and tidy.
They agree they will use no herbicides, insecticides, fungicides “or any other pesticide at any time.”
Fertilizers must be organic, only hand watering is allowed and they agree to volunteer on communal areas like the composters, picnic tables and storage shed.
The social aspect of Topham is a big positive, with a group of friendly, like-minded people working together.
The benefits are also physical.
Various studies have found that participation in a community garden will increase both availability and consumption of fruits and vegetables in households with attendant health benefits.
One study found that community gardeners have a lower body mass index than their non-gardening siblings and unrelated neighbours.
Interestingly, it found no difference in body mass index between gardeners and their spouses, which researchers said could indicate community gardening creates healthy habits for the entire household.
Another study showed children in participating households consumed an average of two additional servings per week of fruits and five additional servings per week of vegetables.
Shared gardens are not a new concept, with a history of allotment gardens in Britain going back to the 1920’s, for instance.
According to a New York City history of the community gardening movement, the concept really began to take off in the 1970’s, led by the “Green Guerrillas,” a nonprofit environmental group dedicated to preserving urban gardens.
The group would lob “seed bombs” packed with fertilizer, seed, and water over fences into vacant lots in the Lower East Side.
After volunteers spent a year removing trash, adding topsoil, installing fencing, and otherwise beautifying a lot, it became the first official community garden in the city in 1974, with 60 vegetable beds leased from the city for $1 a year.
There are more than a dozen community gardens in Langley Township and the City of Langley, operated by a variety of not-for-profit groups.
Among the largest is the Langley Demonstration Garden which recently moved to the Derek Doubleday Arboretum in the 21200 block of Fraser Highway after 20 years in Murrayville.
Run by the Langley Environmental Partners Society (LEPS), the facility offers education and hands-on programs that promote safe home and garden practices such as composting, the use of native plants, and chemical-free gardening.
The Maples Discovery Gardens Co-operative at 7743 200 St. operates a community supported agriculture (CSA) program that generates 10 weeks of fresh, local, naturally grown vegetables and fruits produced at the garden without pesticides or herbicides of any kind, using only organic methods of mulching, fertilizing and planting.
There is enough produced at the garden for only a few customers, and this year’s program was fully subscribed.
The Maples also offers education programs for school children, who tour the facility and acquire some hands-on experience in small-scale, environmentally friendly gardening methods.
It also has a growing colony of bees tended on-site by members.
One of the newest local community gardens opened in 2015 in Langley City in Linwood Park near 201A Street and Michaud Crescent. The project was the second one in the City and the 13th in the two Langleys.
At the opening, there was already a waiting list.