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Distraught gardeners reap crop of disappointment

Community garden finds swathe of destruction

Youth gardeners are disheartened after their community garden in East Vancouver was destroyed, and they are blaming a nearby building owner.

“When I got there I saw all the trees were gone, and everything was desolate. All the plants were gone, and everything had been weed-whacked,” said Kelsey Corbett, who discovered the damage at the Purple Thistle Food Forest Nov. 21.

Corbett is the coordinator for the youth-run garden, which produces fresh food for those living in the Downtown Eastside.

The irrigation system in the garden had been chopped into pieces. Corbett said this was especially disheartening because the young gardeners had gotten all the materials and learned how to set up the irrigation themselves with the assistance of a grant from the City of Vancouver. The garden has received over $30,000 in grants from the city.

The gardeners allege that David Hollands, who owns property across from the community garden on Charles Street and Vernon Drive, is responsible for the damage.

Corbett said Hollands had initially allowed the gardeners to use part of his land. She said Hollands had given the gardeners a key and allowed them to put trees, beehives, and a tool shed on his property. She said he changed his mind in the fall and asked the gardeners to clear their goods from his property by Nov. 1.

“The way that we were gardening wasn’t how he envisioned a community garden,” said Corbett.

She said Hollands may have been expecting a plotted community garden, whereas the Purple Thistle garden makes use of a variety of trees and smaller plants and has a “more natural and messy aesthetic.”

Corbett said the gardeners removed their plants and materials by Nov. 1 and tried reconciling with Hollands. Then on Nov. 5 they discovered workers weed-whacking part of the Purple Thistle garden. Corbett said that the workers were unaware that the land had been designated as a community garden by the city.

“They told us that [Hollands] had pre-paid them for three days of work, to remove all of the trees,” Corbett said.

Corbett said the Purple Thistle gardeners hope the conflict can be resolved.

“The city is working with us and the building owner David [Hollands] to figure it out, but we want to continue gardening there. It’s a really wonderful piece of land and we have a lot of plans for it.”

Hollands confirmed that he is discussing the matter with the city.

“The City of Vancouver is currently handling this unfortunate misunderstanding, and is looking towards a solution for all parties. Given discussions to date, I’m sure they will find a positive outcome for everyone involved,” Hollands said in an email.

Michael Levenston, executive director of City Farmer, a Vancouver urban farming resource, said these types of conflicts are “very rare.”

“Community gardens are usually separated from neighbours and it’s all sort of put down on paper what the plan [is] and everyone understands what’s going on,” said Levenston.

“It isn’t usual that this kind of destruction happens.”

Beth MacLaren, a gardener for the Cottonwood Community Garden in Strathcona, agreed.

“We get sporadic [vandalism], but nothing to that degree.”