Growing Japanese Herbs and Vegetables

West End Community Centre

My personal motivation for applying for this funding to reduce travel miles for our food. Growing Asian vegetables is one practical way to do this. Plus, I found there was so much interest in gardening, so this grant provided an opportunity to address both. The West End can be a lonely place and even as an introvert I have tried to make an effort to be friendly. Gardening, (next to having a dog), seems to be a good way to start up an conversation. Most of my friends I have made here since moving to the WE have been from gardening. So I decided to try to see if we could connect others also.

Posters, community notices and emails encouraged a wide range of neighbours to join us. The attendance was around 20 so we were well prepared. We started with introductions and storytelling as each participant spoke about their connect to gardening or Japanese culture or their cultural gardening memories. What I realized is that many gardeners grew the somewhat standard varieties, carrots, lettuce, kale, beans. Yet they often talked about their mother or grandmother growing ‘old country’ vegetables.

Then we passed around our handouts, pictures and samples of the plants, describing the attributes, growing instructions and culinary uses for each of the plants. Surprisingly, there was a keen interest in Japanese foods, so much interest in the tasting part!

The second half of the event was sampling the herbs and vegetables in simple Japanese recipes. This was well received and provided more opportunities for neighbours to connect with each other. Sharing recipes and sources they knew for buying the best vegetables, restaurants, etc. Finally, we ended the session with potted vegetables and herbs starts and seeds for them to take home and grow.

I think the sampling and tasting of these plants in simple recipes really encouraged the group to be open to the idea of growing Japanese vegetables and herbs. People connected with each other and later in the summer, I even had some attendees come over to visit my garden plot at St Paul’s to look at my plants growing. Even in the street people will now come up to chat with me. Hopefully, they are also connecting with the people they meet in the workshop.

The communal sharing of food, gardening, stories and memories appeared to reinforce the goals of the event – mainly increasing social connectedness and respect for other cultures. In addition, there was much pride as people were able to share stories and cultural knowledge with us also. Food is the great social connector and I think our workshop was successful in linking people, food, cultural sharing and gardening. I was surprised at how many non- gardeners were in the group. Living in the WE – there is barriers to gardening, but we really encouraged our neighbours to try patio or balcony gardening.
Finally, I hope that other were able to connect and continue to grow their community!