Story + Photos by Temple Lentz
Hypothetical question: Say it’s winter 2008-2009. You’ve just bought your first house, you’ve moved across town to a neighborhood where you don’t know anyone, and the economy has tanked. What’s the first thing you do?
For Anna Petruolo and Lisa Robbins, the answer was clear: start a neighborhood garden.
On the surface, the idea is deceptively simple. Their Fruit Valley house in Vancouver has a huge yard, and Lisa and Anna wanted to grow their own food in a garden. When they worked out some numbers, the possibilities were staggering.
Anna Petruolo And Lisa Robbins
Fruit Valley Neighborhood, Vancouver
“It turns out we have about 1,000 square feet of plantable space,” Anna said. “There’s no way the two of us could eat that much food.” Instead of scaling back their ambitions, they started to think even bigger.
The Fruit Valley neighborhood is unglamorous but charming. The houses are simple and functional, and the population is broadly diverse. One of the reasons the area is affordable for so many people is that it is somewhat cut off from the rest of the city.
“There is no grocery store nearby,” said Anna. “The only place to go is the Chevron station or the Minit Mart.” Urban farms and community gardens are increasingly popular ways for
residents to empower themselves, get healthier, and spend productive time outdoors.
Anna envisions the garden as a loosely organized neighborhood gathering place.
“Come by, help us weed for a little bit, and take home a few tomatoes. Or bring your own seeds and work with us to learn about companion planting and soils.” Toree Hiebert and Kendra Pearce from Urban Farm School helped plan the garden, and are interested in holding classes there. Within three years, Lisa and Anna plan to have vegetables, fruit trees, succulents, flowering annuals, and even an outdoor kitchen. Petruolo, a personal chef, is very excited about this vision.
“We want it to be full circle. You plant and tend it, harvest, and then come right around the corner and I can show you what to do with, say, 10 pounds of carrots.”