CEED Centre Organic Community Garden

CEED Centre Organic Community Garden in Maple Ridge is building community through sharing and growing.

CEED Centre Society with Executive Director Christian Cowley

CEED Centre Organic Community Garden

This semester my partner Charlotte Lin and I, Chloe Leung, engaged in a community project with Can You Dig It. Through this opportunity, we conducted a virtual interview with CEED Centre Society’s executive director, Christian Cowley. We were able to discuss with Christian about the gardens he manages, the ups and downs of community gardening, and his future plans for the gardens.

Christian has been the executive director of CEED Centre Society (the Society) since 2004. He also worked  for a year and a half at Fraser Health, focusing on food security as a community developer.  Prior to that, he founded companies that provided translation services and trade services for Japanese construction companies.                                                                                       

The two gardens run by the Society are CEED Centre Organic Community Garden and the Pioneer Park Organic Community Garden, both located in Maple Ridge. Pioneer Park Community Garden was formerly a school site that has been transformed into a park, including a garden with four available plots.

We focused most of our interview on  CEED Centre Organic Community Garden. When you enter  the  garden, you will see 20 planting beds that are each 80 square feet and are distributed in linear rows around the building.

In the centre of the garden, there is a pavilion made of rubber brick flooring where seniors enjoy gathering. There is an apple tree in the middle of the garden  surrounded by a set of bricks. Christian explained that the tree has been here for many years and was present when he began working at the society. 

During the warmer seasons, the garden becomes a lively place. Butterflies, honey bees, and mason bees are seen fluttering and buzzing around the abundance of vegetables and flowers such as garlic and tulips. The warm sunshine brings  the scent of fresh produce and soil. Families, children, and seniors enjoy interacting with each other, while peacefully working on their garden plots. As more individuals develop an interest in gardening, Christian expressed what he finds most unique about his gardens:

“[It is] the people that come to [the community gardens]. [We] get quite a difference in the motivations and the reasons for staying.”


Christian CowleyExecutive Director of CEED Centre Society

As our discussion with Christian continued, he shared the story of a Korean gardener who grows two different species of bellflowers, which are used for medicinal purposes and require five years to mature. We learned that the reason behind the gardener’s decision to dedicate his time and effort to grow the plant is so he can sell the bellflowers and donate the money he earns to charity.

From stories like the one mentioned, Christian’s goals for his gardens are clear. Through opportunities like community gardening, his mission is to:

“connect people to community and foster the sharing of information so all living beings can thrive…[and] that we build [resilience] in our community.”


Christian CowleyExecutive Director of CEED Centre Society

Being able to learn, connect, and engage with other individuals in the local area are all aspects that contribute towards the essence of community gardening.

The Ups and Downs of Community Gardens

While overseeing the organization’s community gardens, Christian shared some tips on maintaining a successful space. He believes that retaining key volunteers is crucial for community gardens. When volunteers who help out in the gardens are able to socialize and gain experience and knowledge, their engagement can lead to developing a connection to the space as the activities become  part of their identities. Volunteers who are invested in the garden space can adapt to work with other gardeners and help community gardens continue to run smoothly. 

As CEED Centre Society offers various interactive programs for youths, seniors, and other individuals in the community, “cross-pollination” for joining programs can occur. Participants in one of the organization’s programs may wish to participate in gardening. Similarly, gardeners may develop an interest in joining CEED’s other programs. As a result, CEED Centre Society is able to expose many members of the community to the gardens and share the organization’s mission of fostering opportunities to connect, learn, and interact.

Christian explained that lack of financial support  is one of the prominent challenges that CEED Centre Society faces for their community gardens. According to Christian, their community gardens are not eligible to receive financial support as it does not “benefit enough people”. Cowley expressed his disappointment, saying:

“connect people to community and foster the sharing of information so all living beings can thrive…[and] that we build [resilience] in our community.”


Christian CowleyExecutive Director of CEED Centre Society

Christian added that due to their non-profit nature and budget constraints, advertisements and promotions are challenging. Although social media is helpful, its reach is usually slow and these platforms are designed to attract users who are already following their page, not necessarily new people. 

Besides their revenues from membership fees, the Society rarely obtains external funding for gardens. Despite this, Christian intends to keep their membership and garden fees low as he believes that community gardens should be accessible for all, especially low-income families, enabling everyone to participate in growing food.

The impact of COVID-19 is evident on the ability for people to mix and mingle in the garden. CEED Centre Society aims to ensure the health and safety of their volunteers, garden users, and other key stakeholders by implementing necessary safety protocols. Obtaining seeds is particularly tough due to the on-going pandemic. Local outlets like Bruce’s Country Market usually donate seeds to the garden every year, but the pandemic has resulted in fewer amounts of seeds donated this year. A local article by CTV News reported the spike in seed sales shortly after the announcement of coronavirus as a pandemic. Since then, an increase in popularity has been seen in gardening as Canadians developed interests in growing fresh produce in their backyards. This could be one of the reasons that community gardens receive limited seed donations.

What’s next? 

Christian would like to encourage  the city to develop a garden complex with smaller plots and more allotments for community farming. This development could be used to build a farm school in the area. A farm school is a great opportunity to experience hands-on learning on agricultural practices that complements the theory learned in classes and encourages students to build a community with their local farms. He is also interested in having food banks have their own means of production rather than relying on produce received charitably, so that monetary donations could be directed to pay farmers to raise livestock and fresh produce on behalf of the charities. Then both farmers and recipients win. 

A large enough garden to provide sufficient food for charities is one of the things that Christian wishes to pursue in the future. He continued to express that it would be even better for individuals who consume and use the produce to take part in the process of growing the items themselves.

“Growing food is one of the most information-intensive pursuits you can have… There’s no such thing as an expert gardener, everyone is always learning. Nature teaches you some things and other people teach you some things. Community gardens are a great place for that learning to come together.”


Christian CowleyExecutive Director of CEED Centre Society

Christian further explained that he is passionate in innovating a scheme so that farming compost does not go to waste. Growers often have surplus produce that they cannot sell so it gets composted. He suggests that volunteers can harvest it fresh for direct distribution to the charities. 

Over the years, CEED Centre Society and the garden he manages have grown closer to his heart and became a part of Christian’s lifestyle and identity. He hopes that community gardens can help promote the development of a resilient community as individuals begin to connect with each other and learn together throughout the process of gardening . If you would like to be a part of a greater community that provides positive contribution to our local community, visit CEED Centre Society or connect with Christian at community@ceedcentre.com to learn more.  

About the authors:

Chloe Leung and Charlotte Lin are Land and Food Systems students at the University of British Columbia collaborating with Can You Dig It to raise awareness on local community gardens.