Ready, Set, Grow

By Joan W. Winter

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Photos by: Joan W. Winter

Fascinated, a group of children from a nearby school watch and listen as Kristin Crouch, president and founding member of Ladner Community Garden Society pulls from the soil a leafy green plant to reveal a bunch of healthy white potatoes underneath.

“It’s an eye-popping experience for them,” says Kristin. “If it didn’t come off the shelf at the grocery store, many kids have no idea where their food comes from.”

For two hours every second week during the school year, Kristin and volunteer assistants teach the children about agriculture: plants and seeds, sowing, growing and harvesting. It’s a time she finds most rewarding. “Teaching them how to grow their own food and take it to the table is a skill they can use for the rest of their lives,” she enthuses.

Kristin, also the coordinator for the children’s garden program at Kirkland House, a Ladner community-restored heritage home, is passionate about teaching kids the value of home-grown produce; of knowing what they’re eating, and about the dangers of pesticides and genetically engineered food. Having started a school gardening program in Delta, she would like to see every school have a garden, made and maintained by the kids. “Healthy eating, of knowing where our food comes from, teaches good life skills, and was never more important than it is today.”

Graduate of the Master Gardener’s Association of B.C., horticulturist and educator, with a diploma in General Horticulture, Pest and Disease from Guelph University in Ontario, a five-year program completed in 1999, Kristin knows of what she speaks.

A life-long resident of Ladner, married and mother of four, she worked part-time at a grocery store in customer service while her children were young. Always an avid gardener, in 1991 Kristin signed up for the 12-week Master Gardener program at VanDusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver.

The program is divided into two components: one of Classroom (Theory); the other Master Gardener in Training (Volunteer Service). Students of the program must agree to volunteer 70 hours of their time within 18 months following the course, sharing their knowledge and experience by providing gardening advice to the public at nurseries and garden centres, and participating in community projects, plant information hotlines, and writers’ and speakers’ groups. Master Gardeners remain active in the program by completing at least 15 hours of approved volunteer time each year, plus 10 hours of continuing gardening education.

For Kristin, volunteering is a way of life. So much so, she encouraged her own children to volunteer for the community cause of their choice before taking paid jobs. She took the volunteering part of the Master Gardener program to heart, and has since worked tirelessly at numerous community, and neighbouring community, projects.

Besides starting and running her own landscaping business and raising her children, Kristin found time to host *The Delta Gardener*, a TV show for Delta Cable, a volunteer position that lasted 10 years. But rather than be a TV personality, Kristin’s interest and passion is in the development and running of community gardens.

“Community gardens offer benefits too numerous to mention,” says Kristin, “like the opportunity for people who live in apartments to work outdoors… to grow their own flowers, fruit and veggies, as well as make friends with like-minded people. They provide neighbourhood improvement, a sense of community and connection to the environment.”

The idea for a Ladner Community Garden came to Kristin after touring the Terra Nova Community Sharing Farm in Richmond, BC, which, in 10 years, “rescued” (collected surplus) and has grown and distributed over 200,000 pounds of produce to those in need.

“It’s a terrific program,” she says, “all about harvesting and sharing healthy food, promoting food security, preservation and sustainability. And about educating youth – over 400 children visit the farm each year.”

In late 2010, Kristin talked to a friend about the idea of a community garden for Ladner. A small group of enthusiastic gardeners met in January 2011, elected a president (Kristin) and board of directors, and the Ladner Community Garden Society was formed.

With much helpful support from local government, Kristin took on designing the project, organizing the necessary documents and finding volunteer groups to get the garden built. Once underway, she managed regular board meetings and ongoing maintenance at the garden.

“The response to a call for interested would-be gardeners and volunteers was amazing.” Kristin recalls. “Fifty people showed up for the first meeting.”

At the garden site at Holly Park Drive, on 0.4 acres, between 40 and 50 plots were to be made into separate garden lots, with space allocated for social and educational areas. After the land had been cleared, soil, mulch and lumber for the raised beds were brought in. Of the 46 allotments worked, 43 of the gardeners had never grown food before – an exciting learning curve for them.

Soon, an attractive rock garden appeared at the front edge of the garden, a kid’s educational seating area, a trellised entrance, and a pergola and an herb spiral, made of recycled concrete. Now, well established in its third season, the garden has flourished. In 2012, over 250 pounds of food was produced and donated to the food bank.

With the Ladner Garden up and running, Kristin volunteered her services at organizational meetings with neighbouring South Surrey Parks at Crescent Beach, and Alexandra Neighbourhood House, mentoring the building of community gardens and children’s and senior’s projects.

She is also involved in a huge agricultural initiative with Tsawwassen First Nations, a community that hopes to be self-sustaining, producing and selling food and raising livestock. Despite hip-replacement surgery in January, which slowed her down only a little, Kristin enjoys it all.

“It’s fun to work with different age groups and to learn about different cultures, to share stories, ideas and recipes,” she says.

For passionate gardeners like Kristin, the year begins early. Some annual events she organizes, such as Seedy Saturday, a popular event in which enthusiastic gardeners meet to swap and buy seeds, hear guest speakers, purchase plants and gardening supplies, were held in February.

In early March, Kristin instructed her Grade 3 students in making seed tapes – a creative method of planting seeds by gluing them to paper. Lettuce, carrots, beets; spinach, radishes and spicy salad greens – using dabs of non-toxic glue, the kids measure out the required planting distance for each seed type on their allotted four-square length of toilet paper. When the glue dries, the tapes are carefully folded and labeled until it’s time for planting. With 979 seeds, the children made 62 feet of tapes for four of their produce beds – food to be donated to the food bank.

March and April work parties at the garden are already underway. The rockery is weeded and plots dug over. Ladner community gardeners, under the able leadership of Kristin Crouch, are set and ready to grow.

New members and volunteers are always welcome. If you are interested in gardening or volunteering at Ladner Community Garden, or need help in starting your own community garden, call or e-mail Kristin Crouch at or 604-946-8654.



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