Together: An Urban Farm and Mural Creating Change at Gordon Neighbourhood House

Take a peek behind Gordon Neighbourhood House. Tucked along the alleyway, a once empty space now bursts with colour and life with the new Urban Farm and Art Mural project. This initiative is the result of a partnership between Gordon Neighbourhood House (GNH) and the West End Neighbourhood Food Network and a collaboration with local artist and GrafikaVision design studio founder, Masha Tikhanova.

Living nearby, Masha was familiar with the many programs offered at GNH. In fact, her  son once attended summer programs there. So it was a natural fit for her when she discovered GNH needed an artist to create a mural about urban farming. Trained in her native St. Petersburg and at Emily Carr in Vancouver, Masha brought together her fine art background and graphic design skills to create a compelling, original design.

“Mixing the paint–– an exterior latex able to withstand Vancouver’s rain––was sometimes a challenge”  Masha says, “but I was delighted to achieve the dynamic look I envisioned.”

As the project progressed––from preliminary sketching phases to early morning painting sessions in the garage underneath GNH––community members could follow social media updates, until almost a month later, the artwork was finished. The final mural is painted on 5 huge wooden panels and installed on a wall at the back of GNH. Full of rich hues of oranges, reds and greens; and lush, organic shapes, the result is a stunning visual display.

And just as this beautiful art so aptly reflects the healthy nature of organic produce, a real garden, the Urban Farm, now grows alongside it. As GNH Executive Director Paul Taylor says, this new garden represents a fresh focus on food-raising in the West End community and in particular, raises awareness for children.

“For children living in the West End, the opportunity to nurture and grow their own food is limited,” Paul says. “Their default is what is available at grocery stores.”

With the Urban Farm, GNH is working to create a new default for children. The garden is maintained by staff and volunteers and is yet another excellent bridge for bringing young and old community members together. Through GNH, children are now learning how easy it is to plant an indoor or outdoor garden. From the garden, a diverse bounty of salad greens and herbs, carrots and brassicas is regularly harvested. Community members are welcome to pick the flavourful, nutritious produce which is also used directly in the GNH low-cost Community Lunch program and the Seeds to Supper and Creative Playtime programs.

Finding ways to better support community food programs is also one of the priorities outlined in the draft West End Community Plan. The City of Vancouver recognizes the need for food infrastructure and capacity-building food programs and the draft plan mentions increased accessibility to grow healthy foods “close-to-home” as a key element of community wellness.

The vibrant images in Masha Tikhanova’s art mural have transformed a dark alleyway into an attractive, positive urban space.  Alongside it the Urban Farm is flourishing. Together, these are creating positive change and encouraging conversations about what might be possible for growing foods locally in the West End.

Written by Anita Miettunen