Gardens - Specialty Gardens

The neighbourhood garden

As diverse as the members who tend them, the community gardens started by the Afri-Can FoodBasket serve up a mix of international flavours

One of the AFB’s most recent successes—where that magic is truly palpable—is the Oriole-Peanut Garden near Sheppard Avenue East and Don Mills Road, located on an island of land created by a split in the road and known as “the peanut” because of its unusual shape. “It’s a low-income neighbourhood,” says Anan, and home to many recent immigrants. “They were so gung-ho for the garden. The reception we got from these folks was amazing.” When he began doing his community outreach in the summer of 2005, Anan thought that perhaps 25 families would be interested in plots. However, 65 asked to join—perhaps not so surprising in a community of 60,000 people that has just two local grocery stores.

Located on the grounds of the Advent Lutheran Church, the Oriole-Peanut Garden had a speedy genesis, possibly a record for the quickest development of any community garden in Toronto. “The congregation held a vote on Sunday. By Wednesday, we were mapping out plots, and by the following Sunday, we were digging,” explains Pastor Mike Mills. Marian Smith, coordinator of the garden, adds playfully: “We dug up the plots but didn’t start planting for 10 days, so people were driving by thinking that the church was putting in a cemetery—they thought the plots were for coffins!”

No coffins, but there are, appropriately enough, peanuts in one gardener’s plot. The other plots are as varied as you’d expect in a garden cultivated by a mix of Lebanese, Romanians, Russians, Chinese, Southeast Asians, Afghanis and Persians. “Every gardener has plants from their own country,” enthuses Marian, as I surreptitiously break off a piece of the herb mulikhia, which one of the gardeners brought here as seed from Lebanon. The taste is fresh and green, almost like spinach, and the texture chewy and a bit viscid. My shameless hints are rewarded with an offer of seed for next year.

As we settle into the potluck supper meeting that these gardeners hold every two weeks during the growing season—and which has become, as Marian puts it, “a huge cooking competition”—the excited animation of a large group all speaking different languages punctuates the shared meal. Many of the dishes—which include Chinese dumplings, falafel, sticky rice, eggplant and chicken purée, spicy pickled cucumbers and stuffed vine leaves—contain ingredients from the garden plots. The smell of basil and basmati rice is in the air as the gardeners discuss ways to deal with the rabbits that are munching their way through the garden. Helen Liu and Wan Peng are the only gardeners growing carrots. “I guess we can kiss those plants goodbye,” Helen says, philosophically.

For more information about the Afri-Can FoodBasket or to inquire about food-basket delivery, call 416/248-5639 or e-mail info@africanfoodbasket.com.

For more information about community gardens, see the next page. 

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