Brian Dierolf picks up vegetable starters from LifeCycles volunteer Adriana Allard at Central middle school on Monday. The seedlings were grown in the City of Victoria nursery and are now being distributed until June 1 to the new or newer gardeners that qualify for the program. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Victoria’s 75,000 veggie plants ready to find a home

New gardeners line-up for Get Growing Victoria

The 75,000 vegetable seedlings growing in the City of Victoria’s nursery greenhouses in Beacon Hill Park are now being distributed.

The project is called Get Growing Victoria, and the veggies are for residents who are new to gardening in Greater Victoria or whose lives have been impacted by COVID-19. While Victoria’s parks staff grew the veggies, they are part of a project that will give the veggies out to hundreds of people through 30 organizations.

“This is for newbies, so to speak, who have never grown, but also for people who don’t have as the finances they normally would who might be saying, ‘I can’t afford to spend money on [planting a garden] this year because I haven’t been working for two months,’” said Marcus Lobb of Farm to School B.C., school garden programs in the Greater Victoria School District alongside organizations like LifeCycles Project Society.

The concept of giving away veggie starters to new gardeners is an idea that was germinating among several organizations in recent years. It bolted ahead in April when the City of Victoria’s council voted to re-allocate space in the city’s greenhouse nursery to grow vegetables.

To support these new gardeners, the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (CRFAIR) has curated how-to gardening resources, and where new growers can connect with a mentor, on the Growing Together website growingfood-together.com/learn-to-grow.

A partnership that brings together so many community partners is far more than just an attempt to fill the void of food insecurity in the region, said Alex Harned, food systems coordinator for the City of Victoria.

“It is a great partnership with many community partners that promotes emotional wellness, connecting to nature, getting your hands in the dirt, and food growing literacy,” Harned said. “This showcases the social fabric of the food systems in this region.”

There is also a research aspect to the initiative. At some pickups, the new gardeners are asked a few questions to create data on how the seedlings will be started, in planters (on the patio for example) or in the ground, and how gardening makes them feel, Harned said.

READ ALSO: Victoria councillors want city greenhouses used for food production during COVID-19

The Get Growing Victoria program will have two rounds of distribution. Now is the spring and summer plants, and the nursery will grow another round of seedlings in July and August for winter crops. The Get Growing Victoria veggie starters are tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, basil, parsley, swiss chard, kale, squash and cabbage. They were chosen in concert with LifeCycles and Farm to School B.C. and grown from seeds provided from local farmers such as Saanich Organics, Full Circle Farms and B.C. Eco Seed Co-op.

The seedlings will go to families of students in the Greater Victoria School District but also to other members of the community, all identified or accessed through the 30 partner organizations. Seedling pickup for families of students in the Greater Victoria School District will rotate between four school sites throughout the period of May 25 to June 11, at Central middle school, Lansdowne middle school, Esquimalt High and Reynolds secondary.

The Food Eco-District’s My FED Farm will also provide the veggies in “start-up” garden kits to 500 families in need while CRFAIR’s Youth Food Network will make seedlings available to youth facing obstacles in accessing healthy and locally grown food to grow their own garden. (Others can access the seedlings through one of the neighbourhood associations listed on the City of Victoria’s website.) Power to Be is also helping by delivering seedlings to Songhees Nation, the Indigenous Foods Initiative and the WSANEC School Board.

READ ALSO: Matchmaking service connects would-be gardeners with plots

“COVID-19 may have catalyzed this project into being, but I think we’re going to see that there’s a lot of demand for this kind of access to these resources, skills, and mentorship, around growing more food in the city,” said Leah Seltzer of LifeCycles.

“My hope is that this initiative helps inspire and support more people in growing food for themselves and their community. The vision is that these seedlings help nurture children and families during this difficult time by providing an activity in gardening that promotes well-being, and produces, delicious nutritious food for people to enjoy together.”

When Seltzer used the LifeCycles’ email list to put out a call for volunteers to help distribute the veggies, she had all 72 spots filled within 12 hours.

”This is just the beginning, I think, of something that will hopefully continue in the years to come,” Lobb said. “It’s a place where people can find hope, excitement and opportunity right now.”

Pickup times and more information is available at lifecyclesproject.ca/get-growing.

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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