A dedicated group of Saanich gardeners is digging deep to help others in need.
A small band of volunteers spend their Saturdays from April through September at the Saanich Community Church where they tend the soil and harvest the bounty at the Saanich Community Food Bank Garden.
“The purpose is to produce food for the food bank,” said co-ordinator Allison Gratz, who was there when the idea first germinated nine years ago.
“It was started off because we wanted to be good stewards of the land. The land [on the church property] just wasn’t being used at all. We thought we could start a garden there.”
The bounty of vegetables grown is then turned over to Victoria’s Mustard Seed Food Bank.
“They just can’t get enough good-quality fresh produce,” said Gratz. “They get some donations of food, but often it is seconds, and that’s understandable. But ours are some of the only ones that are grown expressly for them.”
She said the garden can produce about 1,500 pounds of vegetables in a year, estimating the value at about $6,000. During the peak, she said they harvested about 85 pounds of cherry tomatoes and 150 pounds of beans.
“And that was just in one week. That was a lot of picking.”
Gratz doesn’t have a figure for how many meals all the vegetables picked throughout the year translates to.
“I haven’t calculated, probably thousands. I don’t know, how many pounds of beans can someone eat at a meal?”
She said there’s a core group of a half dozen or so volunteers, with another 40 or 50 people making their way out to the garden once or twice a year.
She said over the years the volunteers have improved their gardening skills, getting better at producing more food. There are a few staples that can regularly be found in the 1,600 square feet of garden space at the church.
“We’ve gotten really good at growing beans and cherry tomatoes, and had some success with potatoes, squash and zucchinis. Then we have root vegetables like beets and parsnips and carrots,” said Gratz, adding they also grow some herbs, which can be fairly expensive, along with grapes and apples along the edges of the garden.
While the Mustard Seed is able to get top-quality produce out of the arrangement, Gratz said it also brings a benefit to the volunteers.
“I love it, and it’s more fun to pull weeds and everything with other people,” she said.
“I’ve always grown up having garden-fresh produce, it’s just something that’s always been a part of my life. If I’m able to help other people who are not able to have access to that kind of really tasty food, I’m really happy to do that.”
She said it’s also made her a better gardener, comparing the sharing of information to something “like a hive mind.”
“There’s one person who’s really great at tomatoes and someone else is this amazing orchardist and has been able to help us out with the fruit thing. Someone else is really good at irrigation. We’ve just been blessed to have all these really good people around. We’re just learning all the time.”
The community garden is always looking for more hands to help out with the work. Anyone interested in volunteering can email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/SaanichCommunity FoodBankGarden.