Growing Community

There is looking, there is seeing, and then there is vision. When I arrived at Simms Creek Park, I looked at the broken fences, the garbage in the corner, the lone cold concrete picnic table, and an almost vacant lot. This small corner of a Willow Point residential neighbourhood has been used in the past as a neighbourhood playground, but as children grew up, it fell into disuse. The playground equipment was in disrepair and finally removed for safety reasons. I sat at the picnic table recently, talking with Chelsea Holley, a young mother who has an idea that is rapidly taking on a life of its own.

chelsea-holley-1“I have a young family,” she said, “and I really want them to have outdoor activities, and to be connected to the earth.” Chelsea has a passionate conviction of the interplay between families, community and the natural environment. This conviction fuels her motivation to find time in her life to pursue her vision of a community garden, now called the Laughing Willow.

Many people talk about children lacking outdoor opportunities, or that  children do not have experiences that teach them the sources of their food. Chelsea realized that a community garden could be the focus of healthy activity, and she was inspired by her mother, step-grandmother, and grandpa, all of whom like to garden. And she took action. In the process, she has gathered a team of generous and talented people who share her vision, and who are rapidly helping to bridge the gap between idea and manifestation.

At the Compost Education Centre, and the site of the only current community garden, Elaine, the “resident compost diva” was a wealth of helpful information, and enthusiastic support. She put Chelsea in touch with many people who responded positively, including Lois, an accomplished gardener who is helping the project along with practical advice and experience. Others have come forward as well, to complete the perfect mix of talent and energy that will make this vision a reality: River, an experienced organic gardener; Michael, whose talent lies in construction, will oversee the physical development of the garden; and Kira DeSorcy, who is both an horticultural technician and artist.

Looking for an appropriate site brought the City of Campbell River Parks Department on board, and they have been extremely helpful. In fact, Chelsea has high praise for their practical assistance, and continued interest in facilitating the completion of the project. The Parks Department, particularly Ross Milnthorp, helped the team locate Simms Park as an appropriate site. This is a win-win all around, with City Council recently agreeing to supply water and electricity, and handing over maintenance of the park to the Laughing Willow organization.

Now a shared idea, the Laughing Willow has the support the Greenways Land Trust (GLT). The GLT is a non-profit volunteer conservation organization that works within the community to enhance recreational and ecological greenways. Chuck DeSorcy, a director with the Trust, says: “It’s a natural fit. This project encourages community involvement, and fits right in with the plan for a sustainable community, which is in development at this time.” As the umbrella organization with charitable status, the GLT can assist the Laughing Willow in finding monetary support.

Business owners in Willow Point and in Campbell River also understand the importance of this community project, and are stepping up to make donations, to publicize the project, and to lend a hand where possible.  

What will the garden look like? The Laughing Willow will have raised-bed garden plots, bordered by fruit and nut trees, to accommodate about 30 gardeners. A preliminary draft plan created by Kira shows a row of plots raised to a height accessible to gardeners in wheel chairs, plus a row of smaller spaces for children to tend as their own. There will be a bed devoted to “plant a row” (which will produce vegetables for the food bank and the soup kitchen) and a pergola, or grape arbour sitting area. The space for educational events will likely see workshops on composting, pruning, starting plants and saving seeds. There is also space for a shed and comfort station.

Interested gardeners would apply for a plot, then meet with the leadership team to confirm their understanding of the gardeners’ agreement and responsibilities, and to see that the community garden vision is shared. The Laughing Willow will evolve within the plan to reflect the needs and desires of the participants, and it is expected to be just the first of many community-motivated gardens in the Campbell River area. As a template, it will be a learning experience for all, and a pattern for future community gardens.

What is still needed? The start-up budget figure is about$20,000, so donations are always welcome, and would be happily received by the Greenways Land Trust.        

Building materials, (untreated cedar to be used for the garden plots, especially), perennials and fruit trees would all come in handy, but can’t be accepted until late winter or early spring. The constant and sustaining energy will come in the form of the volunteers, who will bring their time and talents to prepare the lot, build the beds, fences and shed, plant trees, and grow vegetables, fruit and flowers.

The results will go far beyond the production of food, as important as that is. The Laughing Willow will be a gathering place of friends and neighbours of all ages, backgrounds and persuasions. They will be growing community along with the food. 

A neighbourhood that gets together to grow food, to nurture a respect for the land, is also creating a healthy place to raise children, to care for elders, to include all kinds of people. I can already see the garden beds full of thriving vegetables and flowers. I hear the rustle of the leaves of the hazelnut and apple trees and the happy noises of children planting seeds, helping their parents weed and playing with each other while Mom chats with a neighbour. This is a vision that goes beyond the garden gate, to enrich the neighbourhood families, and the world as we know it. 


Jean Wrohan is a student of Science of Mind and a Nia instructor in Campbell River. “In movement we find health.”


 To get involved with the Laughing Willow Community Garden…

Donations of money:  Greenways Land Trust, Attn: Laughing Willow

208-991 Alder St., C.R. V9W 2R1

Donations of materials: Call or e-mail Chelsea Holley

250 926 0279,

Gardeners or volunteers: Call or e-mail Chelsea as above