Garden Project takes root behind Abbotsford Community Services

Official opening takes place Thursday, June 23 on property at 2408 Montvue Ave.

Marina Gibson of Day 1 Urban Farm stands in the plot of land used for the Garden Project

Marina Gibson of Day 1 Urban Farm stands in the plot of land used for the Garden Project

A space that was once the subject of a supportive-housing proposal rejected by city council has now become a community garden.

The Garden Project celebrates its summer launch on Thursday, June 23 on a quarter-acre plot of land located at 2408 Montvue Ave. behind Abbotsford Community Services (ACS).

The project has been in the works since last fall as a partnership between ACS and the Day 1 Urban Farm, operated by Marina Gibson.

Gibson, a mom of four who has a degree in agriculture and previously worked in soil conservation and manure management, came up with the idea over a year ago, based on a project she had heard about in Vancouver called Sole Food Farm.

The organization transforms vacant urban land into street farms that grow quality fruits and vegetables sold at farmers’ markets, restaurants and more.

“I thought, ’This is interesting. I think I could enjoy doing this,’ ” Gibson said.

She asked around, and it was suggested that she approach ACS with her idea.

Her timing couldn’t have been better; ACS had already been toying with the idea of turning that land into a community garden.

The property had been the subject of a controversial proposal in early 2014 to build a 20-bed low-barrier housing project for homeless men. The plan was rejected by city council following a tie vote (an in-favour majority was needed for it to proceed).

Once Gibson got the OK for the garden, including city approval, she began turning the gravel lot into Abbotsford’s first urban farm last fall.

She has volunteered all her time, and a grant from Vancity, among other local supporters, helped with the costs of building the greenhouse and with other start-up expenses. Lumber was donated by Blackwood Building Centre, and ACS volunteers constructed the garden beds and a retaining wall.

The site has grown from 12 garden beds in the initial setup to 19 beds growing produce such as red cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, herbs, beans, peas, corns, carrots, watermelon and cantaloupe.

Gibson said the record-breaking warm spring weather has boosted the growing rates.

One area contains several boxes being used for a “Tomato War” that involves ACS teams battling to yield the most tomatoes on a weekly basis, once they are ripe. The winning team gets to keep their yield for that week.

Produce grown at the site will be sold at the Abbotsford Farm and Country Market – held Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Montrose Avenue and George Ferguson Way – and to restaurants.

Proceeds will go back into the project – including providing a wage for work experience in subsequent years – and for other ACS programs.

Other plans for the Garden Project include providing educational events such as children’s workshops and promotional activities such as a garden cook-off.

Gibson said the garden has received much positive feedback from passersby, who say it has beautified the area.

The Garden Project celebrates its summer launch from 3 to 5 p.m. tomorrow. For more information or for volunteer opportunities, call 604-859-7681.