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Chinese vegetable workshop offered by Vancouver's Hua Foundation

06/26/2015 03:04 EDT | Updated 06/26/2016 05:59 EDT
"Choi" means "vegetable" in Cantonese, and the Hua Foundation wants to help Vancouverites grow their own.

The organization represents a group of young Chinese-Canadians who want to bring sustainable food practices to diverse communities.  

They're holding a workshop this weekend to highlight the history and how-to of growing choi in the Lower Mainland.

Long local history of Chinese farming

Many of the railroad workers who came to Vancouver in the 1800s came from Southern China, where there was a strong and vibrant agricultural tradition, said Megan Lau, author of Sprouting Choi: A Beginner's Guide to Growing Chinese Vegetables. 

"After the work was done on the railroad, there were very limited jobs to the Chinese immigrants. One thing they could do was farm."

Those immigrants planted not only conventional crops for grocers and markets throughout the province, but also traditional choi for their families and community members, Lau said.

"By 1921, Chinese farmers were growing 90 per cent of locally consumed produce."

Tradition continues today despite racial discrimination

"What happened was, along with a suite of racist legislation, the Vegetable Marketing Act was introduced, which meant that regulators could essentially arbitrarily decide who could sell and grow vegetables. 

"There are cases and stories of people being beaten, fined and imprisoned, even, for selling cherries, for example," said Lau.  

Despite this, Chinese immigrants continued to farm locally, and today supply the majority of family grocers in South Vancouver and Chinatown, Lau said.

"If you go across the Lower Mainland ... a lot of the farmers you'll see are from diverse communities." 

Lau's quick tips for growing your own choi

1. Maximize your space

Consider planting on three levels. Start with a shady plant, such as beans, corn, or zucchini. On the ground level, try growing a cabbage or lettuce. Finally, plant a root vegetable underground, such as kohlrabi or carrot.

This conserves water and maximizes the amount of choi you'll be able to grow, Lau said.

2. Organic pest control

"If you've got slugs, what you can do is crush up egg shells and line them around your garden."

Other crops, such as chrysanthemum leaf, also act as natural repellents, Lau said.

The Hua Foundation is holding a workshop titledGrow Pride and Choi: How to Farm Asian Vegetables on Saturday, June 27 in the garden at David Thompson Secondary. 

To hear the full audio piece, have a listen to: How to grow your own choi. 

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