UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 9 | Sep.
A Garden Grows in Surrey
Arts Co-op student helps transition house harvest hope
By Erica Smishek
Give a woman and her child potatoes and you feed them for
a day. Teach them how to grow potatoes and they can feed themselves
for a lifetime.
Its an old lesson gaining new momentum at a Surrey
transition house program for women and children who have left
abusive relationships, thanks in part to UBC Arts Co-op student
During her Co-op work term this summer, the fourth-year geography
major has worked with external agencies, community partners,
program staff and residents to develop a community garden
that will one day supply fresh fruit and vegetables for the
programs community kitchen. Hawkey started with no existing
land, supplies or substantial budget -- but countered with
a solid knowledge of gardening and ecology, loads of creativity
and the determination to make a difference.
Gardening is a very reliable and affordable source
of food, says Hawkey, 25. Fruits and vegetables
are more expensive in Surrey. We dont have a lot of
produce markets here like you see in places like Vancouver.
When I came here, I knew there were great socio-economic
differences between Vancouver and Surrey, but didnt
really understand how the politics, income assistance and
legal system affected real lives, she continues. Weve
been taught in geography that the wealthier areas like Vancouver
get more programs and that the poorer ones miss out.
But I lived in a Vancouver bubble. Its been a
Located in central Surrey, the Koomseh Second Stage Transition
House Program supports women and children who have left abusive
relationships and have significant barriers to affordable
housing. They include women of colour and aboriginal ancestry,
immigrant women who speak little or no English, young mothers
with little or no education or job skills, women needing to
flee a geographical area or needing extensive advocacy for
court proceedings, and women coping with alcohol and drug
Koomseh, a First Nations word, means wholeness and well-being.
Its umbrella organization, Atira Womens Resource Society,
takes its name from Atira, a First Nations female deity symbolizing
a bountiful harvest, strength and power without being warlike.
The 12 women and 23 children currently in the Koomseh program
live in a unique complex of 11 townhouses and can access various
on-site support programs, including the community kitchen.
Program co-ordinator Linda Djadidi explains that most of
the residents have a lower socio-economic status and struggle
financially, with little money for food by months end.
When I started here it was during the bus strike (2001),
says Djadidi. I saw that the women had no way to get
to the Food Bank. We started to provide rides and child care.
We finally arranged a bi-weekly food pick-up at the Food Bank.
The sad reality is that whats given to families
by the Food Bank is through donation and much of the food
is not very nutritious and rarely includes fresh produce.
Women meet weekly to prepare meals together. They exchange
favourite recipes from their cultures, cooking tips,
lessons and stories as they chop vegetables and stir the steaming
The issue was poverty, Djadidi says. It
was also a way to bring people together with a group activity.
Cooking is a really good way to build community while providing
nutritious and economic meals. They cook together and share
the food and have some to freeze for future meals.
Djadidi imagined a community garden as a way to supply the
kitchen and try to become as self-sufficient as we can.
A position was posted for a Community Garden Co-ordinator
with UBC Arts Co-op, which had supplied students previously
The energetic, articulate Hawkey, whose family lives on a
farm and who has spent many an hour building her own patio
garden, got the job and was soon contacting area businesses
for donations of plants and gardening supplies and encouraging
residents to tackle planting in their backyard garden areas.
Hardware / home improvement retailer RONA has been a big
supporter, donating fertilizer, soil, rakes, shovels, hoes,
childrens gardening tools and seeding trays for next
year. Local nurseries and farms generously donated plants.
I write good letters, Hawkey explains. My
strategy was to ask lots of businesses for smaller donations.
Everyone has been very generous. Everywhere I stopped they
said, Here, take a flat of plants.
Hawkey contacted the City of Surrey Parks and Recreation
department, which is exploring developing a municipal community
garden managed by local participants, and was quickly recruited
to its community garden committee. The City and Atira are
now looking to combine their needs into a community garden
that serves both.
Hawkey has attended City meetings and been actively involved
in site selection, assessing locations for proximity to high-density
housing, visibility, accessibility to water, public transportation
and parking, and soil suitability, and she is now recruiting
volunteers to help organize an open house to unearth potential
As a small scale back-up plan in case this municipal garden
does not see fruition, Hawkey also applied for and received
permission from the housing society where Koomseh is located
to develop a small garden at a site selected using aerial
photos obtained through the City of Surrey.
Gardening is very rewarding. Especially for people
who will be here at the end of the harvest, its a great
feeling when you can pick your own tomato to eat, says
Hawkey. But even people who are not here from the planting
to the harvest can still participate. It gives people the
opportunity to get together. Its therapeutic and fun
One woman, whose identity cannot be revealed, kept a garden
in her former home and worried she would miss it after leaving
her abusive partner. When she arrived at Koomseh, she was
thrilled to pull up the huge weeds in her backyard and plant
some vegetables and flowers.
It has made it very cozy, made it my own space,
she says. I find gardening very peaceful. It makes me
relax, its tranquil -- and its a great hobby,
something I can share with my daughter.
Another resident, who has volunteered to serve on Surreys
community garden committee, says gardening is a healthy
thing to do. Its a good social thing and it helps us
communicate with the community and with each other.
Hawkey has developed a formal plan for next years growing
season, mapping out when vegetables need to be seeded and
when and where they can be planted outdoors. She says the
itinerary should make next years garden bountiful and
allow the community kitchen to plan meals around the harvest
Though she returns to UBC this month, she will remain part
time at Koomseh as the community kitchen co-ordinator.
Im glad Im staying on. I started something
and I feel like I want to see it through.
Spoken like a true gardener.