Locally grown Asian vegetables have been a part of Vancouver diets for more than a century.
Continuing this legacy, Grow Pride & Choi, a series of workshops hosted by Hua Foundation and the Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society, teaches beginners and gardening enthusiasts how to grow choi in their own backyards or balconies using traditional Chinese techniques
According to Megan Lau, Hua Foundation’s associate director and workshop organizer, the workshop will be very hands-on.
“We all come together in an outdoor classroom setting where there’s a chalkboard and people can ask all their gardening-related questions, [whether] it’s about the easiest crops to grow or about bugs,” she says.
The participants split off into groups to learn and engage in different activities ranging from planting seeds to harvesting. The harvested vegetables are used to make a lunch at the end of the workshop, Lau says.
Following the first workshop in April, a second will be held June 27 at David Thompson Secondary School with space for up to 30 participants, double the quota of the first edition. The registration fee of $15 includes lunch, goods to take home, and an individual copy of “Sprouting Choi”- a comprehensive guide to growing your own vegetables in the Lower Mainland.
A growing foundation
According to Lau, the workshop is just one of several initiatives run by the foundation, which was launched in November 2013 by Simon Fraser University grads Claudia Li and Kevin Huang.
“[The foundation] is about really celebrating Chinese culture, connecting people young and old to their heritage, [finding solutions] for environmental sustainability and just not compromising on the change we want to see in the world,” Lau says.
One of the successful initiatives she pointed to was a partnership with an independent grocer in Chinatown last summer.
“We want to make responsible and conscious choices about what we eat, but we didn’t know where or how all the food in Chinatown was grown, so we were uncomfortable about eating it,” says Lau. “By working together with the grocer, we discovered that a lot of their produce is actually locally grown around Richmond and Burnaby – it just wasn’t marketed that way and there were a lot of language barriers.”
To overcome these barriers, the partners worked together to create signage that facilitated better communication.
Lau also pointed out that there is more widely circulated information about mainstream produce than certain types of Asian vegetables.
“You could go to Whole Foods for example, and they can tell you when things like eggplants or arugula or blueberries are in season, but you don’t really know when Bak Choi [Chinese cabbage] or Gai Lan [Chinese broccoli] is in season,” she explains.
To promote more robust conversations around these locally grown Asian vegetables, Hua Foundation compiled and distributed a one-page Seasonal Choi guide to the Vancouver Public Library, Farmer’s Market, Fresh Roots and various other locations. The guide is also easily accessible on their website.
“We wanted to show the range of things that can be grown in the Lower Mainland and when they are in season. [So] we just compiled the information and made it available in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, which has been really helpful for some organizations who serve really diverse populations,” Lau says.
Long history in B.C.
Lau adds that Chinese immigrants from farming villages in southern China have been growing food in the Lower Mainland since the 1800s. Following the completion of the Pacific railway, they turned to farming as a new vocation and created market gardens to supply grocery stores and restaurants across B.C., she says.
“They were so successful that they reportedly produced 90 per cent of B.C.’s vegetables in 1921,” Lau says.
However, this success was curtailed by the discriminatory Vegetable Marketing Act which prevented Chinese farmers from selling or marketing their produce without provincial approval.
Nonetheless, Chinese farmers have not diverted from this tradition, and in learning how to grow your own choi and supporting the production of healthy, sustainable locally-grown foods, this legacy will continue to live on.
Grow Pride & Choi workshop
David Thompson Secondary School
June 27, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
For more information, visit www.huafoundation.org