There’s an almost palpable sense of pride in Tammas Grogan’s voice as she lists the edibles growing in a green canopy inside her blue shopping cart.
There’s a type of Swiss chard called pink flamingo, a half-dozen carrots, their tails poking out near the back, perennial arugula (a salad green), pansies (edible as a salad garnish) and flowering nasturtiums (pretty, and as Grogan describes, peppery, with a likeness to watercress).
“And the (nasturtium) flower and leaf are both edible, so it’s groovy,” adds a perennially smiling Kate Elliott, Grogan’s partner-in-carts.
The “à la cart” display, created by the two SFU urban studies graduate students, is part of a project called the Gro-Carts Mobile Garden, and it’s taking root in Surrey this growing season.
The plan is for 20 carts to be adopted, shared and learned from – specifically for people have limited food security for financial or geographic reasons.
The project, which has already won the pair $3,000 from the grand prize in an SFU Surrey-Central City student engagement competition last fall, is in full force.
In late April, the two women launched the planting and distribution of the project’s platoon of 20 shopping carts at Holland Park.
All of the carts were donated by a company (which wanted to remain anonymous) that was about to replace them.
The carts were in better shape than expected.
“We had arranged with a school to have metalwork students repair them, but they were perfectly good,” says Elliott, a Burnaby high school teacher.
The 20 used in the project are all black, in contrast to Grogan’s blue prototype.
The Abbotsford horticulturist has been using the same cart since her experiments began while working with the needy at a Mennonite church in 2012 – three years before she met Elliott at SFU.
Elliott says shopping carts have a poor reputation, and on the street, they are often assumed to be stolen.
“These poor decommissioned carts need some new identities.”
Indeed, six of the Gro-Carts were given names by kids when they were brought to a North Surrey women’s shelter.
Most of other shopping carts have been adopted by individuals or families, for use in townhouses, condos or apartments which don’t have space for gardening. Some have found space on balconies or roofs.
The carts’ grilles provide drainage for the plants, which grow on soil that sits on a thick bed of straw.
For those looking to improvise, straw could exchanged long, dry grass, as long as it’s thick enough to support the soil.
With no possibility of root rot like in closed pots, the three-dimensional shape of the micro-garden allows vegetables such as potatoes or broccoli to grow underneath other plants, at times sprouting sideways through the grilles of the cart.
“You get three or four times the (growing) area than if you just planted the top,” says Grogan.
She adds that slower-growing vegetables such as broccoli can be left growing underneath lighter, leafier, salad greens which can be harvested and re-planted on top.
Grogan says the project is more about learning to grow food than the cart itself.
“It’s an educational tool,” she says. “Once people learn they can garden in a cart, they realize they can garden in any little container or pot or planter or hole in the pavement or tiny spot in the landscape that doesn’t have something else in it.”
“If people replaced their lawns with food, it would be an interesting world,” adds Elliott. “We know statistically that for people who have lower incomes, the food that they can afford has less nutrition, so if we (show) that it’s not difficult to grow your own food…”
There was a good response to a the project’s launch at Holland Park in April.
“It’s amazing. People are keen,” says Elliott. “They came and saw the planting and we were quite surprised at the number of people who expressed in interest of having a Gro-Cart if we were to get more donated carts. So we’re always up for more cart donations.”
The public will get their next chance to see the carts at Holland Park in the afternoon of May 15 at Holland Park at the end of the Surrey Earth Walk event. For details, visit villagesurrey.ca/event/2016-surrey-earth-walk/