Kyle Roslund’s raised garden bed sprouts a variety of herbs and vegetables. In front of his central Vancouver home, a sign reads: “Take what you need. Pull a weed. Leave some for others.”
Roslund’s garden isn’t just any garden — it’s a resiliency garden, meaning what’s grown there is available to anyone walking by.
“Later in the summer, this becomes a pretty popular spot,” he said. “Pretty soon, people will start stopping by here every day.”
Resiliency Gardens, sponsored by the nonprofit Urban Abundance, aims to increase equitable access to healthy food around Vancouver and to build community. The program gives participants the tools they need to start their own garden with one caveat: it must be publicly accessible for anyone walking by.
Anyone interested in hosting a resiliency garden is responsible for preparing the soil. Then, they fill out an application on Urban Abundance’s website and provide a photo of the beds. If organizers deem the location a good fit, Urban Abundance will provide enough compost and organic, local vegetable starts for up to 100 square feet of garden space for free. Garden hosts are also given a sign to post that explains how anyone can pick ripe veggies from the garden.
After a garden is established, organizers check in to see if garden hosts need any support or supplies.
“We want to encourage conversation amongst neighbors and for people to talk about how bountiful our area is in terms of what we can grow,” said Urban Abundance Board Member Chelsea Unger. “We want to empower our neighbors to grow their own food.”
The program was started shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, when supermarket shelves were bare and lines at food banks were long.
“It really reminded us of how victory gardens were born out of similar supply shortages during World War II,” said Urban Abundance Board Member Lynsey Horne. “That philosophy — neighbors growing vegetable gardens to share with the community so that there isn’t this reliance on the industrial food system, which we see has all of these flaws and is often not able meet everyone’s needs, especially those who are in vulnerable positions — is what inspired the resiliency garden program.”
There are now some 30 resiliency gardens throughout Vancouver and one in Camas. That’s about 3,000 square feet of publicly accessible garden space, according to Horne.
The minimum size of a resiliency garden is 20 square feet while the maximum size is 100 square feet. Urban Abundance will supply different starts to different hosts depending on the soil conditions and amount of sunlight at each location.
Most resiliency gardens are in front of a garden host’s home, but not all. Recently, the organization donated 10 raised bed kits, each with soil donated by Yard ‘N Garden Land, to both Safe Stay Communities in Vancouver so that residents there can begin their own resiliency gardens.
Roslund said his resiliency garden has helped him connect with his neighbors and reduce food waste.
“We have a lot of neighbors that we’ve connected with who have extra produce at specific times throughout the summer, and they’re able to off-load it here, and people want it,” he said. “It’s a good way to make sure food doesn’t go to waste.”
Limiting food waste harkens back to Urban Abundance’s roots. The organization was founded in 2010 to bring volunteers together to glean Clark County’s fruit trees in the summer before excess fruit went bad.
“Clark County has historically been an orchard community, that’s why we have areas like Fruit Valley and Orchards,” said Board Member Kim Harless. “There’s a huge history of fruit trees here, and we thought, ‘Why have that fruit go to waste, when instead we could be harvesting it and sharing it and continuing that legacy?’”
Now, from mid-July through late-October, organizers coordinate with backyard fruit tree and orchard owners to set times for volunteers to glean. Then, volunteers collect the fruit and transport it to local food banks, food pantries and other food recovery programs.
On average, the organization has some 250 volunteers who collect anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 pounds of food a year.
In addition to gleaning and resiliency gardens, Urban Abundance also hosts seed and plant swaps in collaboration with other local organizations.
“That’s another thing that we’re trying to do is to really connect with other community members and organizations that are aligned with some of our values around food security and community building,” Unger said.
One garden host bridging Urban Abundance with another organization is Ashley Blose, who uses her resiliency garden in Lake Shore to help stock free fridges in Vancouver. Blose is one of the founders of the Vancouver Free Fridge Project, a mutual aid network of community refrigerators and pantries.
“It’s all about providing free, healthy and organic food for the community,” Blose said.