REFLECTION: 'Together we can': Stouffville resident's offer to share farm blossoms into support group amid COVID-19

·3 min read

Editor’s Note: For many of us, 2020 is a year we’d like to forget, but there were some highlights and our reporters have launched a Reflections Series, in which each of them shares a story that had a positive impact on them.

Through all the stories I wrote this year, the one that had the biggest positive impact on me is about a Stouffville resident letting people grow their own vegetables on his land.

That was back to May, shortly after the pandemic lockdown. People were worried about going grocery shopping.

After hearing a lot of voices of “I wish I could grow my own food,” Stouffville farmer Andrew Zhu decided to contribute his land to become a shared farm.

According to the plan, Zhu charges anyone interested in growing vegetables on his farm an annual management fee. Then he provides all the tools and water and electricity for planting, as well as some necessary guidance, and everything harvested can be taken home.

The vegetable commune was warmly welcomed by Chinese residents on WeChat since it was introduced.

The story was memorable to me because it was the first article I had done that gotten this much attention this year. In addition, like most people, I was touched by the spirit of an ordinary citizen who wanted to help with the pandemic.

After its publishing, I received lots of emails asking for Zhu’s contact because people were interested in the sow-and-reap-for-yourself lifestyle and wanted to join his group.

According to Zhu, he was also interviewed by other media and even television stations thanks to this report, which made him more widely known in Stouffville.

Six months have passed, not only did Zhu’s shared farm develop and attract more people, but it also formed a new organization called GTA Seniors Mutual Support Association.

“My original thought is to build a communication platform for residents in York Region, offer a garden for planting lovers to share, but we turned out to be much more popular than we had expected,” Zhu said.

The GTA Seniors Mutual Support Association is a non-profit Organization specializing in recreation and education activities for older adults in Chinese Community. To date, there have been more than 1,000 members.

“Many people met me through the farm, and we became friends because of age and common interests. Now we got a bigger plan,” Zhu said. “We want to improve the quality of life and fulfil the needs for seniors throughout our community, and to innovate the home care model for seniors.”

To help the elderly live a happier and more independent life, the association provides a lot of opportunities for socialization and physical activities. Their latest event is the 2020 Christmas & New Year Zoom Party, which was held on Dec. 19.

Members and volunteers from the association have been working hard for more than one month for this virtual party.

“People cannot get together as usual this year due to COVID and seniors are more likely to feel isolated,” Zhu added. "That’s why we need to have more online seminars, hobby clubs, and parties to keep loneliness away."

To serve the collective well-being of a culturally diverse membership, the association welcomes more senior citizens to participate in their community and charitable activities. For more information, please visit: https://gsmsa.ca/.

Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun