When Diane Cairns from Fraserside Community Services in New Westminster, BC first conceived of a tiered garden box with trellis, her goal was to increase food production in her community. The Biggest Little Garden in Town, as she called it, would be perfect for balconies and patios. She developed the idea and had the containers built out of western red cedar by Creaft Custom Woodworking. The boxes, along with soil and plants, are provided free of charge to New West residents living in apartments or town homes. The raised beds are also more accessible for people with mobility challenges. If for some reason, the Biggest Little Garden member moved or was unable to continue gardening, the box is returned to Fraserside. What Diane didn’t realize is that those people would also need gardening instruction and some support. So she created a gardening booklet and a website with tips on how to grow, harvest and prepare the vegetables. She also holds workshops during the growing season.
Diane was not prepared for the success beyond the New West borders either. When people heard about the Biggest Little Garden, they wanted one too, even if they lived in a neighbouring municipality. So she decided to sell the units, too. Now she has customers as far away as Nova Scotia and Hawaii. Soon other municipalities in Metro Vancouver wanted to start the program. So community partner Vancity Credit Union, suggested she franchise – but this would be a social franchise – so all the profits would go back into the project. She has now sold franchises to several other municipalities.
Perhaps the most important part of the project has been the community building. Diane tells me that older, more experienced gardeners share their secrets with new gardeners during the workshops. The balcony gardens also give a visual cue; when gardeners see one another’s gardens from across the street, they know they’re part of the same group. A simple wave has turned into a friendship.