Renting the dream: a broke Brit in Van (part 3)


Part three of a six-part series about how one millennial is creatively dealing with Van’s affordability problem (read part one and part two).

Fifteen dollars for one eggplant, 500 milliliters of tahini, and eight cloves of garlic? You’ve got to be freaking kidding me.

This was my thought the other day at our local supermarket in Shaughnessy when I saw the price of my few groceries.

The original plan was to use skills honed living with a Syrian family in Lebanon to make some Baba Ghanoush as part of a celebration for moving into a freshly rented mansion with 10 stranger-roommates (including a few couples). Except now it appeared that I couldn’t afford to both purchase Vancouver-priced groceries and have a roof over my head. Even if I was sharing a mansion to cut housing costs, something had to give.

A clever foodie roomie 

It was becoming clear that living in a large mansion had certain advantages. One major plus point being a gaggle of creative and resourceful roommates. Bobby—who works as a carpenter and is building a huge triceratops out of scrap wood in our garage in his spare time—had an idea. To curb our insane spending on produce, he thought we should plant a mansion-sized vegetable garden.

It made perfect sense. Why spend endless quantities of cash on produce when one could simply grow everything and have it fresh all summer? Bobby had a fantastic scheme to get everything moving. We’d dig up part of the lawn to create vegetable beds, and he’d funnel some of his scrap triceratops lumber into crafting a huge tomato planter. Vancouver has decent weather in the summer months, seeds are cheap, and there would be little maintenance besides watering. We were winning.

$75 for a mansion-sized vegetable garden

Fortunately, our landlord cared not if we dug up part of the lawn, so the wheels began turning on our new agriculture project. Bobby erected our tomato planter, the excess turf was evicted, and we headed out to a local garden centre to purchase seeds and starter plants. We sowed everything from arugula to zucchini and then we watered, watered, watered. All told, we spent about $75 on a few trays of starter plants and seeds. There was some debate among us on whether there was an excess of parsley, or whether cilantro was in fact evil (my roommate Warren is repulsed by the stuff), but things were quickly solved when we were reminded of the number of us living there and that cilantro deserves love too.

One project inspires another

Later on, another communal project was born around the dining table: vegetable signs. The most impressive of the hand painted signs we all contributed was “Broccoli Obama,” created by my compatriot Greg (who restores canoes when he isn’t creating punny garden signs). Now all we needed to do is patiently watch our seeds grow and we’d be laughing in an abundance of delicious, colourful (and cheap) foliage all summer. Things at the house were coming together. That is, until our mansion’s first shared utility bill arrived in the mail.

More on that challenge in my next post.

Read part four: How to avoid roommate brawls over bills

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