Cara Smith brought a long tradition of community gardens to Lake Cowichan – Cowichan Valley Citizen
Community gardens have a long history dating back to the Dark Ages and beyond. Archaeological evidence suggests that common land cultivation in Britain was practiced in Roman times, but the earliest documentation is in the Dome Day Book compiled by the Norman conquest after 1066 AD. The land provided was generally less arable than the fields used by feudal lords, often wasteland to begin with, hard work for the peasantry to clear and plant, but it provided the vital vegetables and pasture that allowed crops to thrive. sustenance needed to survive in these brutal times. . Often the commons were appropriated by masters once the land was arable, leading to the establishment of manorial courts to adjudicate possession by the Statute of Merton, passed in 1235.
This long, unbroken tradition continued from the Middle Ages through the Industrial Revolution and into modern times; during the world wars, the “victory gardens” provided the food security that kept the British from starving until the oceans could be cleared of the dreaded U-Boats. Even after the war, my parents used community gardens provided by the Air Force wherever they were stationed.
It’s not just a British practice. My son-in-law’s mother has a dedicated housing estate in Vitebsk, Belarus, provided by the government. The need for fresh produce, after all, transcends race and culture. It is very difficult to enjoy history on an empty stomach.
When I left home and started a family, I was thrilled to find my own allotment garden. For those who don’t have their own plot or just want to hang out with other gardeners and learn a thing or two, community gardens fill the bill. From my plot in Victoria, I was able to observe how older Portuguese gardeners grew fava beans and ate the flowering tops before the aphids reached them. They taught me to dig under depleted crops instead of letting them sit on the ground and losing nitrogen to the air. Another neighboring gardener showed me her pumpkins she was growing for the seeds that had no husks and I saw a group who shared a plot buy a backpack for compost tea to spray on the crops . I still want one of mine and just figured out what David is buying me for my birthday.
Community gardens can make a huge difference to those who use them. Nothing beats a freshly picked vegetable for flavor and nutrition. While we can learn a lot by reading, we can learn more by watching more experienced growers apply their lifelong experience. It’s when we get into the ground and start growing our own food that we really learn these survival skills. Today I have my own land to garden, but the camaraderie of working alongside other gardeners, watching and learning from them, swapping stories and seeds while listening to the children run and I miss the strawberries ripening in the sun. The experience of home gardening has enriched my life far beyond just putting food on the table.
Lake Cowichan has enjoyed a community garden for nearly 10 years, and people who use it enjoy the camaraderie almost as much as the tasty results. Cara Smith was the driving force behind these gardens, presenting her case to city government with the support of current mayor Bob Day. She wrote and received a $2,500 grant from the Mid Island Co Op to build planters and improve irrigation systems. She has also led donation campaigns and now the garden contains four fruit trees as well as raspberries and other plants grown in common. Volunteers like Cara make Lake Cowichan a great place.
Sadly, Cara passed away on January 3, leaving behind a wonderful legacy that many gardeners are now tending to. One, Jane Way, says her life changed after joining the group. She made friends there and now feels part of the community. These gardens donate additional produce to the food bank and community services. There is a waiting list, but the group plans to make more areas available for hire. Priced at $15 for membership, then $10 for a four-by-eight-foot box or $15 for a four-by-10-foot box, with water freely available and plenty of gardener brains to collect, it’ is a good deal.
Thanks Kara. We will miss you.