A community garden in Blenkinsop Valley has brought fresh produce and friendship to dozens over the last four years, and last week gardeners turned out to celebrate its latest milestone.
Participants and volunteers from Feeding Ourselves and Others gathered at Serenity Farm to reflect on the progress they’ve made with the community garden, located at the Seven Oaks mental health facility. The community initiative has grown from just over a dozen people with 6,000 square feet of land to nearly 40 with 15,000 square feet.
“It was started, really, as a therapeutic garden,” said project co-ordinator David Stott, noting the concept was developed by provincial court judge Ernie Quantz and his wife Ardelle in 2011.
“They happened to meet me at an event having to do with community gardens and they asked me if I would undertake to put the garden together for them. I was an organic farmer, but prior to that, I was a community organizer.”
Since the mid-1990s, Stott has set up eight community gardens, particularly for disadvantaged people. While Serenity Farm began to give low-income residents a place to get fresh vegetables, he said the garden has proven to have numerous additional benefits.
“It’s a multipurpose project, and each person in their own way probably takes something different from it. Everyone can learn gardening skills, but some people are able to stabilize their lives, improve their health, improve their physical condition, meet new friends, establish a sense of community among themselves.”
Sue Patterson, a client of the garden, said she found out about it through the downtown Assertive Community Treatment program by Island Health.
“This year, one of them said to me, ‘Why don’t you go out and try the garden?’” she recalled. “I didn’t know what I was coming to, but I came out and it’s just fabulous.”
Patterson, who gardened a lot growing up, said working with the soil brought back fond memories and has helped her find a sense of calm.
“When I come out here, I just have such peace and joy, being in the country and having the wonderful volunteers and staff here. It brings out so much of who I am, and it really affects the rest of my life. It’s been really, really special.”
The garden grows a wide variety of vegetables, including kale, chard, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and rhubarb. Additionally, organizers have started to branch out by providing some food from the garden to healthy food programs.
“We’ve got an orchard, we’ve started some fruit trees, we’re growing food for Soup-er Meals, which is an Island Health-sponsored initiative to provide low-income people with good, fresh food,” said Stott.
“It’s become both income generating and therapeutic, which is not very common with gardens. Usually it’s one or the other, but it seems to be working quite well for us.”