To celebrate the spring equinox and arrival of another season of growing, volunteer caretakers of Newton’s PLOT Sharing Garden will “come together while we stay apart” on Saturday (March 21).
The group’s annual ritual, planned at the Newton Medicine Wheel on the site, will be held in an “adapted form” amid ongoing COVID-19 virus concerns.
“We will read them in a circle, with plenty of physical distance from each other,” said Rella Tees, who has volunteered at the garden since it was created in 2016.
“For this circle we’ve had 60, 70, 100 people in the past, but this year we can’t have that,” Tees added. “But we will collect the prayers, and we will imagine the circle is full. There is no gap in my mind. This is our fifth year and we’ve never skipped one, so I think it’s important we continue, especially this year.”
The community garden is located on two acres of city-owned land to the south of Newton Arena, on 71st Avenue at 137A Street. The garden beds radiate from the centre of a medicine wheel, a path that embodies the circle of life in Aboriginal cultures.
Organic food is grown and shared at the PLOT, which has been a site for work parties, picnics and other celebrations since it first sprang to life four years ago. Community members are invited to “contribute, harvest, share and enjoy.”
Tees, who works as paralegal at a Vancouver firm, lives nearby and volunteers at the garden once a week, sometimes more.
For this year’s spring equinox ritual, she welcomes prayers and blessings emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“People said to cancel it but I don’t know, I’ve always been told to balance elements,” Lees said. “Especially at this time it’s important to have those prayers and good thoughts and stress balance in a situation that is imbalanced. We need good thoughts and pull away from everything that’s chaotic right now.”
On Tuesday, Steve Webster worked on garden beds and reluctantly stopped long enough to pose for a photograph.
“Knowing where our food comes from is important, because if you don’t know what you’re eating, you don’t know who you are,” Webster said when asked why he gardens there.
“Growing your own food gives you control of your own environment, and basically how you’re developing as a human being,” he added. “We don’t have enough local food production, and as you can see with the pandemic with the empty shelves…. Growing local just makes sense.”
Webster said the garden has allowed him to meet a variety of people from different cultures.
“You get to meet different people and learn ways of growing food and preparing it,” he said. “You know, family traditions, too – My grandma did it this way, and mine did it that way,’ totally different, but you learn that whole balance of culture.”
Group member Jasleen Virk works as a graphic designer when not at The PLOT, an acronym for peas, lettuce, onions and tomatoes. “For me, it’s about growing food and also about community, being part of the community and also helping others,” she said. “Right now, because spring is here, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done, preparing the gardens.”
Lees said in four years of her work at the garden, she’s noticed “a change in the energy” in the area.
“It’s changed completely,” she said, “and from the start it has changed people. When I started I was scared because I’m from a different culture and I was not sure I’d be accepted, but you realize that everybody here has the same idea, the same passion about community, about doing something good.”
On March 8, a couple dozen people attended a Holi event at the garden, and Lees said an Earth Day celebration is on the PLOT calendar next month. “We’re not sure that will be happening,” she stressed.
“We will still grow things here, that will not change,” Lees added. “Last week the soil was still a little frozen at times but now we are seeing the plants come out. We will have fresh vegetables, we will be self-sufficient. Once those seeds are planted, the vegetables will come very soon – no need to go to the store for those.”