Fighting for the farm: Jen Rashleigh and the George Pearson Centre’s Garden Club

By Rica Talay

Founder of Farmer’s on 57th Jen Rashleigh in one of the greenhouses in the George Pearson Centre.Photo By Rica Talay

With the upcoming Pearson Dogwood Redevelopment  Jen Rashleigh feared it was the end for the farm.

Rashleigh, the founder of Farmers on 57th, co-leader and Horticultural therapist of the Garden Club fights to have an acre of farmland in the upcoming redevelopment.

The Garden Club is a weekly gardening program, within Farmers on 57th, for residents of the George Pearson Centre that aims to get residents out of their rooms and into gardening,“To make Pearson less like a hospital more like a home,” Rashleigh said. Pearson is a long term residential care facility on Cambie and 57th. 

The plans of redevelopment were first proposed by the original landowners, Vancouver Coastal Health, but decided to sell the site to real estate developers, the Onni Group.

Fighting the good fight

Jen Rashleigh, co-leader and Horticultural therapist of the Garden Club holding a tray of growing kale.Photo By Rica Talay.

From the start, Rashleigh sat on the redevelopment panel and gave a presentation to the city hall about the benefits of community gardening.

“I told them what we’ve been doing and I said this should be part of your city policy” Rashleigh said. “[Farmers on 57th is] so community integrated, it’s so successful, it can be such a focus and gathering space and community, and if it’s a brand new community even more so.”

After pushing for the farm-space the city mandated an acre of farmland to be a part of the upcoming redevelopment. “The city really heard,” Rashleigh said.

Rashleigh started working with the preliminary architects for the project about what the green-space will look like. “They totally got hooked on the idea of what Farmers on 57th was and they put food right at the centre of their vision,” she said.

The Horticultural therapist

Born and raised in Vancouver and growing up in her mother’s farm, Rashleigh caught the gardening-bug from an early age.

“I grew up knowing the whole value of gardening,” Rashleigh said.” I always was an engaged gardner in my own private life and I would just enthuse about it.”

Before Farmer’s on 57th, Rashleigh’s was a documentary filmmaker and while doing a film up in the North Coast First Nations community, Gitxaala Nation, Rashleigh got involved in starting a community wide garden.

“I remember just running around this village and saying this is actually the most exciting thing I’ve ever done,” she said.

Coming back to Vancouver, Rashleigh was inspired to start a similar project in the city. While she was biking by Pearson Centre and saw expanses of lawn she thought “We could have a series of gardens.”

Rashleigh approached Sarah Wenman who is now the co-leader of Garden Club and started the project together. Now the Garden Club has been successfully running for nine years.

Wenman said she enjoys working with Rashleigh because of how well they work together. “We have different skills and different approaches to things and we found that we work well together and we both love gardening,” Wenman said.

Co-leader Sarah Wenman, at Garden Club’s first seeding.

The Garden Club’s first seeding

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The club meets every Tuesday and have up to 12 volunteers gardening with the residents.

Since most of the Pearson residents are in a wheelchair, Garden Club does enabling gardening which involves a tabletop garden and having each Pearson resident partnered up with a volunteer.

“There’s often times there’s 30 to 40 people in the garden at the same time,” Rashleigh said. “It’s a total party, every week it’s just a big party.”
The Garden Club started their first seeding on March 21 and the program goes on until the third week of September.