Food and drink 

From the ground up - Whistler community greenhouses are growing bigger expectations

The Thanksgiving leftovers are barely put away, the frost is well and truly on the pumpkin, and there are still gardeners who are thankful that they still have fresh tomatoes awaiting harvest in Whistler’s community greenhouses.

Operated by Whistler Community Services Society, whose mandate is to support social sustainability, the three greenhouses — two at Spruce Grove Park and one at Myrtle Phillip Park — have been something of a marvel in local community and communal gardening. They’ve defied snow and ice, collapsing roofs and all expectations to produce harvest after harvest of tomatoes, lettuce, mesclun, carrots, and more — provided the gardeners were smart enough to do succession planting.

With concern sprouting up all over about the food we eat and where it comes from, the all-organic greenhouses have proven so popular that in a serendipitous coincidence four years after they started, a fourth one is being planned for spring 2008. (See details below to sign up.) Each gardener gets a 20-square-foot plot in a cedar box, with 18 gardeners per greenhouse (13 were turned away this season).

And, no, this is not the 80,000-square-foot greenhouse being proposed next to the athletes’ village. However, not surprisingly, both projects have the same “father” to thank — Steve Milstein. He started it all by erecting a small greenhouse next to his home on a sunny lot in Alpine Meadows and wowing friends and neighbours with three-pound tomatoes and giant Brussels sprouts when they said it couldn’t be done.

While every gardener just loves mucking about in the dirt, there are several fine features about this gentile way of gardening in the greenhouses that one can only see as a bonus. One of the nicest is that you don’t break your back bending over since the boxes are waist-high.

As well, since your plot is drip irrigated, you don’t have to worry about watering. And the heat tracers in the soil mean your garden will defy all seasonal expectations and deliver cherry tomatoes even after you’ve been up skiing — at least this year it will.

“You can grow six months out of the year, and sometimes there are surprises after the winter — you’ll have lettuce or carrots come up because they’ve self-seeded,” says Kari Mancer, executive assistant and the current greenhouse coordinator with WCSS.

One of the nicest sidelines that also comes with community gardening is the communality and conviviality of sharing with your fellow gardeners everything from gardening tips to surplus harvests or duties when you are off on vacation. The idea of sharing even goes beyond, as extra produce in each greenhouse goes into a bin destined for the local food bank.

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