Lesley Gurney and Ebony Vardal speak to city council on Tuesday, Nov. 14 about the success of Salmon Arm’s Community Garden. Image credit: Martha Wickett

Community garden a growing success

Crops flourish, many fed with help from volunteers.

The bounty of the Shuswap has blossomed beyond expectations in Salmon Arm’s community garden.

Lesley Gurney, who provided an acre of her North Broadview farm for the garden, and Ebony Vardal with the Shuswap Family Resource & Referral Centre, came to council recently laden with tasty carrots as well as chips and jars of canned salsa made from fresh tomatoes.

“We had an extraordinary season with the community garden,” Gurney said, explaining this was the second and more productive year of growing.

“We had hundreds of pounds of food every week. An enormous amount of food came back to our community.”

The garden is a project of the Shuswap Food Action Co-op and the resource centre.

Gurney expressed gratitude for city council’s willingness to bring water to the site.

“It was a hot June day when we met the first time… and you all agreed to support us.”

Related link: City helps get garden growing

A grant from the Shuswap Community Foundation and SASCU then supplied funds for a drip system, to make watering easier and more efficient.

Gurney’s generosity in providing an acre of land received praise from council, as did the work of all the volunteers.

“It’s incredible you’re willing to donate your land because without it, it would have been impossible,” Coun. Alan Harrison remarked.

Gurney explains why she allocated the land. As well as growing food, the garden would be “a meeting place where the social, emotional and sensory needs of the advantaged and disadvantaged can be addressed and remediated. This garden will prioritize sustainability, conservation and holistic organic gardening practices. Essentially it’s a teaching garden that is meant to feed our community.”

Vardal coordinates the sustainable food programs for the family resource centre, including the community kitchen, the community garden and a new gleaning program.

“I can see how the family resource centre has really benefited,” she says. “Not just the food, which is a really important piece, but also the social connections and the education.”

The women said an “unbelievable” number and variety of individuals and groups came to the garden – kindergarten classes, older students, people from the family resource centre and the Salvation Army, children and adults from Okanagan Regional Library’s story time, seniors groups and more.

Conveniently, a bus stop sits across from the garden near 30th Street and 60th Avenue NE.

Vardal wrote grants to help cover costs, but the women said it would be ideal to have funds for a paid co-ordinator and for programming.

A master gardener from the community designed the garden, and helped educate newcomers to gardening.

“He’s a pretty amazing guy,” Gurney says.

He would plant in a certain order, taking into consideration such factors as varieties which grow better when planted next to each other. Following the planting he would come once a week, detailing jobs to be done and which crops were ready for harvest.

Related link: Helpers needed for community garden

Volunteers have been key to the project, Vardal says. While many food-action members were experienced gardeners, many others were novices.

Often community gardens are based on people renting a plot, buying their own seeds, then harvesting their own produce. This garden is different.

“We wanted to engage people who have never gardened,” Vardal says, noting she comes from Vancouver and was one of those.

“A shared plot for the whole community would remove some of those barriers – knowing how, having the tools, the space, access to funding for seeds, and all the other pieces.”

It also removes a barrier for people who need food but don’t wish to go to a food bank.

Many volunteered. Some came for the planting, some worked a little from week to week, some came for harvest.

“There is no requirement how much. It’s more about learning about nutrition, where food comes from – it’s all organic and it’s quite interesting to learn, from my perspective,” says Vardal.

Not to mention it’s beautiful and peaceful there.

Gurney says it might not be a perfect garden… “It’s not all lined up and weeded, but it works as a food producer for sure.”

Adds Vardal: “It’s unreal – “I’ve never seen so much food.”

@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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Some of the bounty from Salmon Arm’s Community Garden. Photo contributed

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