GUILDFORD — Safi Ullah came to Canada in 2010. He talks about his old life in Burma and then Bangladesh, about the never-ending conflicts, the criminality, the combat, the lack of opportunity. He talks about all of this but he does not dwell, because today, Ullah is a free man in a free country, and he’d much rather look forward than back.
One afternoon a few weeks ago, Ullah was especially upbeat as he planted fruit trees in a community garden near his Guildford home.
He did so as part of a city-wide initiative that involves a whole bunch of organizations and teams of tree and garden experts. Ullah, an immigrant new to the customs and still learning the language, grabbed the first shovel, got dirty and helped ensure the job was done right.
The Saturday-afternoon event was the Surrey launch of the TD Green Streets Project, a program that in 2015 saw 22 Canadian communities win $13,000 “urban forestry” grants from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. Close to 125 communities applied for one of the grants.
“There was a lot of community engagement involved in our project,” said Dan Nielsen, manager of landscape operations for the City of Surrey, as he explained Surrey’s win. “We proved we can make good use of the funds.”
Surrey’s application looked particularly strong over the longterm, said Mandip Kharod, with TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.
“For us, it’s not about planting trees and leaving them. It’s really about how you continue to foster that. Survivability is a key to us.”
And so, on Oct. 17 at Guildford’s Lionel Courchene Community Garden, 25 trees were planted in the first of several Surrey events that will eventually embed another 75 trees and involve locations such as Holly Park and Cedar Grove Community Gardens.
Why fruit trees?
“Planting fruit trees in the public space in order for people to pick and enjoy it is something that’s just a little bit different for the city,” said Coun. Bruce Hayne. “But seeing these people here appreciating the program – that’s what community is all about.”
The fruit trees “will be part of the urban agriculture that we’re seeing growing in popularity,” Nielsen added.
The afternoon was not without its hiccups. Turns out the original spacing for the trees – mostly fig and apple – was more than a wee bit tight. Some re-strategizing began. Reps from Tree Canada, which partnered with TD in the selection process, talked with folks from Can You Dig It, which builds and maintains community gardens.
And there were rocks – lots of them, sometimes big ones. Some planters dug around them, some tried to displace them. Robyn Mooney of Tree Canada did the latter, standing upon her shovel and bouncing mightily for maximum impact.
Rick Ketcheson, co-chair of the Surrey-White Rock Food Action Coalition, was a big part of the action, bringing his permaculture expertise into the equation and occasionally tossing bits of charcoal into some of the holes.
“Healthy trees start with the soil,” he said. “Whatever you can do to make a healthy, rich soil that’s full of fungal life, will make for healthy trees that are resistant to disease.”
In the future, there will be workshops on pruning and harvesting and cooking the “fruits” of all this labour. But that day in October was all about getting the spindly, nursery-raised beasties into the ground, and increasing community involvement.