There’s something about Whonnock and the people who live there that makes them think a little differently about the world around them.
Perhaps it’s the lack of water, or the lush surrounding forests, or the bucolic beauty of the many farms.
It is a community that seems to attract free-thinkers, people who care about the environment who aren’t afraid to speak out and, yet, are equally ready to get their hands dirty and fix the problem themselves.
One such resident is Zdena Novy, a retired Whonnock elementary teacher who, along with her husband Jiri, have been developing a small organic produce farm (Novi Organics) on Garibaldi Street.
They have lived in Maple Ridge for 37 years now, and although you may know Zdena from the farmer’s market or the produce stand that sits out front of their rural home, she actually credits her dad and grandfather for her gardening aspirations.
Zdena was born in Prague, Czech Republic and spent much of her youth at the family’s ‘Zahradka,’ or garden allotment, outside the city, where they grew roses, vegetables, strawberries and fruit trees.
It was her ideal rural retreat.
That joy of growing your own food stuck with her after immigrating to Canada in 1969 and continued through university and the younger years of parenthood, with her and Jiri settling on Maple Ridge as a permanent home through the most random of decision making processes – closing your eyes and poking a finger at a map of the Lower Mainland.
They have lived at their current home for the past 18 years, during which time they built a working organic farm.
There are rows of healthy gooseberries, currants and strawberries, as well as two coldframes that help extend the growing season.
Large swathes of garlic, peas, potatoes, beets and carrots are lovingly grown in symmetrical beds, all being replenished with the rich compost – seven bins worth – that she allows the worms to process.
A farm gate cart parked outside their home bears the daily offerings of fresh garlic, carrots, lettuce, herbs and flowers – all grown without the use of pesticides.
The abundant wildlife I saw that morning – rabbits, garter snakes, robins nesting in the pear tree – all attest to the fact that there is nothing being sprayed on this garden that they would need to worry about.
Her home also continues to be a touchstone for former students, one of whom, Natasha Wright, has illustrated a children’s gardening book – Rhys and His Pot of Gold – that they are both hoping to have published in the near future.
The Rhys in question is Zdena’s grandson, a budding gardener and potato connoisseur who I had the pleasure of meeting on my last visit.
Then there’s her pride and joy, a colourful new chicken coop designed and installed by Pascal, Amanda and Tyler Shaw as a retirement gift.
But, then again, that’s typical for Whonnock – people just seem to do the right thing instinctively.
Zdena continues to inspire her former students by showing them “that you can create your own job if you want to.”
She also produces a line of artistic ‘dream boxes,’ in which people without any garden space can grow some herbs or tulips to brighten their own little corner of the world, or share it with someone they love.
So the next time you go to the farmer’s market and bump into Zdena, be sure to say ‘hi’ and remember that everything you see, from the tiniest sprout to the elephant garlic and the person who grew them, is proudly a product of Whonnock.
– Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (email@example.com).