• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 8:06pm
The Hongcouver
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 8:19am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 11:48am

Vancouver community gardens yield a bumper crop of ‘thieving Chinese’ stereotypes


Ian Young is the SCMP's former International Editor. A journalist for more than 20 years, he worked for Australian newspapers and the London Evening Standard before arriving in Hong Kong in 1997. There he won or shared awards for excellence in investigative reporting and human rights reporting, and the HK News Awards Scoop of the Year. He moved to Canada with his wife in 2010 and is now the SCMP's Vancouver correspondent.

It’s springtime in Vancouver, and the urban agrarians are out in force, tilling the community gardens that have become a trademark of the city and helped make it an epicentre of the locavore food movement.

Kale, organic garlic and heritage tomatoes are sprouting in gardens scattered in parks and public lots across the region. The tasty young offerings have brought out the pests, too: Cabbage moths, aphids and, if a recent report is to be believed, the Common Chinese Garden Pilferer.

The Richmond News last week devoted a feature to the subject of theft from community gardens by members of Richmond’s majority Asian community, “particularly older generation new immigrants from China”. Such gardens are generally unfenced and open for the admiration of all - but their crops are not for public consumption.

The distinction is lost on some, the Richmond News reported." For people from a Western culture, the idea of someone helping themselves to the lovingly grown vegetables and plants in a stranger’s garden is abhorrent and nothing short of theft,” the newspaper claimed. “For some Asian cultures … if there are no fences around a community garden, then the stuff growing in it is just that, for the community.”

There are 75 community gardens scattered across the city of Vancouver, with a further eight in the satellite city of Richmond. Richmond’s gardens are all managed by the Richmond Food Security Society, which allocates lots in exchange for a small rental fee. Gardeners are required to maintain and farm their own plot, as well as spend 15 hours a year on the general activities required to keep the scheme up and running.

Despite the workload, there is no shortage of would-be urban farmers, with a waitlist of 150 people for Richmond’s 300 or so lots. 

Colin Dring, executive director of the Richmond Food Security Society, said the city’s  community gardeners came from a range of cultural backgrounds, and he couldn’t be sure that there was less awareness of community garden etiquette in the Chinese community. “We haven’t explicitly examined the issue in detail and most of the information is anecdotal,” Dring said. “We’ve had Chinese community gardeners having stuff stolen by other Chinese, there’s definitely that. It’s not a one sided story, with a Western gardener trying to deal with someone [stealing] who is ethnically different.”

But Dring conceded that cultural differences sometimes came into play. “There’s definitely more work to be done with engagement, particularly understanding how different cultures view public space,” he said. “When you label something as a public park, or a sharing space, or a community garden…those language nuances mean different things to different groups.”

Dring - who studied psychology and environmental science, and whose mother was born in Beijing -  said his background helped give him an awareness that stereotyping may be at play in depictions of Chinese as inveterate crop snatchers. “In many ways [anecdotal information about Chinese thefts] just reinforces stereotypes. People will concentrate all their efforts on one group but the reality is that these thefts happen across all demographics in our community,” he said.

“My psychology training kicks in when I say that people look for things that confirm their world views. It’s a challenge. Without having opportunities for cross dialogue, it’s difficult to get to the root of why anybody is going into a public space and taking food or plants or ornaments.”

He said he was not aware of a greater level of theft in Richmond’s community gardens, compared to those in Vancouver city. “Anywhere that has community gardens experiences theft…it may be that we [in Richmond] have a more engaged community of gardeners and they are spending more time out there and they notice it more and are more vocal. No matter where you have community gardens, theft is occurring.”

The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email ian.young@scmp.com or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

“For some Asian cultures … if there are no fences around a community garden, then the stuff growing in it is just that, for the community.”
Rubbish. You take something belonging to the thieves and see how much they regard it as "community" property.
The problem seems to be that Canada has been indiscriminate in accepting too many uncivilised immigrants whose selfishness makes them poor citizens.
Or, the problem may be that the assertion that Chinese tend to pinch things from gardens is an untrue or exaggerated stereotype, as Colin Dring suggests
I'm British born chinese and it is locals stealing what we grow here. :/ They stole several of our shark fin gourds thinking they were watermelons. The consolation may have been the shock they got when they bit into it raw. lol
I also placed a taro plant outside my grans house in a village in HK. Someone stole it overnight. Even the freaking pot. U_U
When I lived in Vancouver I had beautiful berry bushes enclosed by a chainlink fence at the front of my house. Needless to say the branches tended to stretch through the holes, and if I didn't harvest every day the ripe berries were picked by the same older Chinese and Indian people time and again. The newer generations of people are no better at being unselfish; they just can't be bothered to take things from the garden.
Sorry guys. Canadians are very xenophobic. They're not exactly racist, they just have a superiority complex about Canadians (regardless of skin color).
40 years ago, farmers adjacent to Ontario's Mosport racecar circuit, were loosing corn from their fields beside the roads leading into the park. Campers ( mostly WASPS ) used to love the fresh corn with there evening barbeques on race weekends.
Farmers quickly found a solution. They simply planted cow corn next to the roads.
Not a problem for a sideways cud chewing bovine, but would easily break the teeth of most human diners.
yeah, when I was in college in the Midwest of the US...I found out that lesson the hard way...that corn we took...did not taste good!
Canadians are rude and have a superiority complex. They also can't drive worth a ****.


SCMP.com Account