arthwise Society’s executive director Patricia Fleming sits among the gorgeous flowers that cover much of the not-for-profit’s Southlands gardens. And her passion for sustainable plant-growing is as bright as these blooms.
Since its inception, the society’s mandate has been simple: cultivate sustainable communities through environmental education and stewardship. Affirming its mission to teach conscious farming practices to local residents, Earthwise hosts several workshops throughout the year, including eco-tours for grade school children and programs for seniors.
It all started in 1979 as the Delta Recycling Society. Due to a municipal garbage strike, a number of local citizens banded together to form the Delta Recycling Project, with a mission to set up community recycling depots. It became a registered non-profit organization and an early proponent of the three Rs.
In 1995, they created a Compost Demonstration Garden in Tilbury Industrial Park to raise awareness about backyard composting. “That same year, it was renamed Earthwise Garden, and a one-acre garden was planted using the composted organic matter,” says Fleming. It was the first of its kind in the province. “By the early 2000s, recycling became mainstream, and we redefined what we were,” she continues. “We refocused on education and renamed ourselves the Earthwise Society in 2004.”
It was then that Tsawwassen’s Southlands agri-community offered them an acre of land: an incredible opportunity to expand their vision. “At the time, it was bare land used for parking and storage,” says Fleming. “It took us three years to get the soil ready for planting. In 2007, we re-implemented our programs.”
Teaching kids and teens foundational knowledge about the earth, and how food is grown and harvested, offers them a better appreciation for sustainable living and responsibly-grown food.
“Kids love it. There’s a sense of discovery—a connection to nature that they feel when they come to the gardens,” says Fleming, adding much of Earthwise’s operating budget comes from community donations, grants, and sales of its produce and flowers. “They start to care for the earth and for the future of farms.”
“There’s a sense of discovery—a connection to nature that they feel when they come to the gardens.”
Earthwise’s contributions to horticulture are vast, and a vital component are their volunteers. The organization relies on 50-plus people, who assist not only in its gardens, but also in its several community programs. One such initiative is the Harvest Box, which serves the Delta Food Coalition. “The Delta Food Coalition is a group of community groups working together to address food insecurity issues in Delta,” explains Fleming. “Through our Harvest Box program, we provide the coalition with produce from our gardens and farming operations to those in need.”
Leslie Gray, a volunteer and board member, is an avid dirt-digger who loves to teach people about the importance of food security and of growing your own food. “The value of organic farming, education, and sustainable practices is a passion all us volunteers share,” she says. “To spark curiosity in people in relation to the values of Earthwise, while caring for the earth, makes it so worthwhile.”
Canada has declared 2022 its Year of the Garden. To that end, Fleming invites anyone who has never been to its Southlands gardens to meander among the stunning natural ornamental displays and get inspired.
“I think Earthwise has empowered a lot of people in the community to make wiser choices when it comes to gardening,” says Fleming. “These gardens connect us back to nature, but at the same time, they are essential to the ecosystem.”