Image:
@friendsoftheplot via Instagram

Supporting community building and resilience: Newton’s the PLOT is more than just a sharing garden

By:
Jasleen Bains (Twitter:@_jasleenbains)

In 2016 activists and artists came together in Newton, a town centre located in Surrey to create the PLOT, a 2-acre space that holds a sharing garden to serve the local community.

Located behind the Newton Arena/Newton Wave Pool, the PLOT is different from most community gardens, because with no fence or waitlist to join, it is entirely free for the community to use as they wish.   

For Aman Chandi and Jasmeen Virk who helped create a documentary about the space, the PLOT is more than just a sharing garden that supports local food security. It is a safe place where they’ve made countless connections.

In an interview with 5X Press, Chandi and Virk spoke about the significance of the PLOT as a grassroots initiative that has been transformed by local residents to be used as a space for healing, activism, and community building.

Part of the importance of the documentary is that many in the community still may be unaware that the PLOT even exists, including Virk.

Virk said she discovered the PLOT accidentally when she was on a walk and noticed a garden in the area. 

“What stood out to me was the fact that it was a sharing garden,”she said.  

“It was [meant] for everyone in the community and a single person or group did not own it.”

In 2017, she then created a documentary showcasing the PLOT to shine a light on the various stories attached to this integral space in Newton in a visual form.

Chandi, who moved from Vancouver to Surrey, was introduced to the PLOT by Virk, who brought her along when she was shooting her documentary. 

Chandi said it was a very grounding place where she felt like she could belong in Surrey.

“There are so many good people [working] there, you just want to keep coming back,” she noted.

This same sentiment is echoed by Virk.

“These people have so much knowledge, not only about plants, but how to engage the community,” she added.

This engagement is done through events like the Winter and Summer Solstice, the Autumn and Spring Equinox, Sunday potlucks, and cultural events like a Holi celebration, where a group of South-Asian women taught giddha and boliyaan to attendees.

The PLOT holds hundreds of stories about the community that haven’t yet been told, and that help bring people together. Chandi has been actively documenting many of these stores for her thesis at Simon Fraser University.

“We’re losing a lot of green space in Surrey,” she said.

“Having places like this and being related to something radical and different is very important for youth, so we as young people don’t feel so displaced and powerless when it comes to our cities.”

Throughout the years, there has been a lot of negative attention brought to Newton, and as a result, stories of resilience and community care are often overlooked.

“For us, we’re always thinking creatively,” Chandi added.

“We want to put on art shows and feature local artists in the space. Our aim is to continue to promote the PLOT as a positive space in the Newton area.”  

A main component of the PLOT is the Indigenous medicine wheel that is housed there.

The creator of the wheel is Grandma Amy Eustergerling, a Cree Elder and Newton resident who came during the early stages of the garden and asked if she could put in a medicine wheel. 

The closest wheel she could visit was in the VanDusen Botanical Garden, so she wanted to build one for the PLOT.

Chandi and Virk believe that the medicine wheel is holding the space together. It adds a spiritual element and creates a healing area for the community who often leave behind food and various offerings.

The area has been neglected for years by the City and it is really the community that has stepped up to preserve the land.

“The PLOT is very grassroots. Citizens, artists and homeless people are the ones that have transformed this space into something to serve the community,” Virk said.

Although she wasn’t there when the PLOT was created, she added that she’s heard stories about its inception and the hard work that went into it. 

"There was a homeless community that helped set up the foundation and tow all of the dirt,” she added.   

“There’s a lot of intention that has been put into the space. Every single plant has a story of someone who helped care for it.”

The City of Surrey has established multiple community gardens, but unlike those ones, at the PLOT there are no fences and the tools and soil are not locked up.

“Just because it’s not organized, it gets overlooked, [but] that’s also the beauty of it. Because the PLOT is so grassroots, we have that freedom to be silly and goofy like when artists put googly eyes on the trees in the area,” said Chandi.

“There are so many people committed to this community, but they’re not supported in the same capacity as artists in other areas like South Surrey.”

This hasn’t deterred those who work at the PLOT to continue serving the community.

When COVID began, the PLOT launched its care basket initiative where they provided fresh produce from its own sharing garden and from local shops to families in the area. Over the course of 8 months they were able to provide baskets to 40 families.

According to Chandi, being involved with the PLOT has allowed for her activism to flourish in a productive way. 

It is integral for more local residents to be aware of this space, because of the connection it builds to the land and to one another.

“The PLOT hits so many different components,” Chandi added.

“There’s that intercultural and intergenerational component. It’s sustainable and also has that Indigenous aspect with the connection to the land, [and] it’s a place for everyone to learn something and to feel connected to nature and the community.”

You can find out more about the PLOT and its incredible events and initiatives here

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Jasleen is a writer, speaker, and educator. She is currently a Teaching Assistant and Masters student at Simon Fraser University where her research examines the intersection between media, race, and community-based educational programming in Surrey, BC. Jasleen is passionate about community building and is a graduate fellow with SFU’s Community-Engaged Research Initiative. She enjoys reading manga, binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy, and a good game of sudoku.

5X Press is a forum for opinions, conversations, & experiences, powered by South Asian youth. The views expressed here are not representative of those of 5X Festival.

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