Sheila Jones and her 11-year-old children Katie and Dominic van Oort stand amid Dominic’s Scarlet runner beans

Kids keen to get hands dirty

Saanich family looks to grow South Malahat 4-H gardening club

Dominic van Oort likes to take a stroll around his backyard, packing strawberries, tarragon, tomatoes and other fresh herbs he’s grown into kale leaves fresh from his garden. There he has it: a homegrown snack he’s dubbed the “outdoor sandwich.”

But don’t let the 11-year-old’s zest for freshness overshadow his keen eye for all things culinary.

Dominic and his twin sister Katie, the two sole members of the South Malahat 4-H’s Garden Club, aren’t just expert gardeners, they’re budding chefs, augmenting their meals with homemade berry vinegars, apple lemon jelly, mint and chive pesto, fresh salsa or a fennel, dill and tarragon white bean dip – all prepared themselves with food they’ve learned to grow on their own.

“I thought it was great to be able to make your own food,” said Dominic, between comments on how the late spring killed his squash season and the size of his rainbow tomatoes.

The two were impressed by British chef and opponent of processed foods Jamie Oliver during a TED talk and have since invested themselves in growing their own food.

Dominic and Katie have completed their second year with 4-H and showed their final projects during the Saanich Fair.

Katie opted to spend the growing season tending to several hypertufa planters around the backyard of their Quadra/Cedar Hill neighbourhood home, while Dominic chose to follow a more traditional vegetable garden structure and canned much of his harvest. His legendary pickles were a personal highlight.

“All the stuff we make in the summer lasts us all the way until next year,” said Katie.

She doesn’t see becoming a “hardcore farmer” in her future, she added, despite her enthusiasm in the Jerusalem artichokes she purchased after an inspired encounter with local organic gardener and author Carolyn Herriot.

Outside of periodically meeting with the 20-member South Malahat 4-H Community Club at the Prospect Lake Community Hall and accepting a little trouble-shooting or heavy digging help from their mother, Sheila Jones, their involvement in the Garden Club is an entirely solo venture for the van Oorts.

They’d like that to change and to gain the ability to take on community projects with the inclusion of more members.

“It’s not just kids raising goats,” Jones said. “We interpret it in a way that’s fun for us.”

Jones has bandied about the idea of creating a kids’ gardening podcast featuring Katie and Dominic, who have also taken home public speaking awards from 4-H, in addition to recognition for their gardening expertise.

For the time being, however, Jones would like to see her kids encourage other young people via face-to-face interactions with their hands in the dirt.

“There’s a lot of scope,” Jones said. “If you’re creative you can do a lot of fun stuff with this. I’m trying to encourage them to go down the road of urban gardening, to encourage them to develop a love of looking after their own diet.”

The 4-H Garden Club is open to new members nine to 19 years old and is $90 annually.

For more information, contact Jones at 250-294-1054 or



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