Keith Starling and his family have been growing produce in their garden up at Take To Heart Mill for the past seven years and donating much of it to the Revelstoke food bank.
Starling said that when he started he didn’t know anything about gardening and spent the first year involved with the community garden downtown, learning everything he could.
“I just saw some of the food that was (at the food bank), and it is a great thing, but to me it just looked like filler food–not very nutritious,” he said.
Every year since then Starling has been doubling the size of the garden.
“Every year, from the first year, I just made it a goal that whatever I started with I wanted to add that much every year,” he said.
In the end it was getting a bit much for him and his family to maintain. He ran a sawmill, people said he should be milling more, but he put his head down and pushed through another year.
“I was hoping that one day that this would grow into something that would be quite substantial, that people could just come up here and this is the year where the food bank approached us and they have helped maintain and grow this to the next step,” he said.
Through Food Banks Canada, Community Connections received funding to hire a gardener and maintain and build a garden throughout the growing season.
“We do get, often, produce from the community gardens and local donations but we wanted to really ramp it up and get lots that could supply us through the whole summer, if not longer,” said Jenna Fraser, community food and outreach coordinator at Community Connections Revelstoke.
The garden is beautiful. Surrounded by an electric fence to keep the wildlife out and supported by a log retaining wall that was donated by the Revelstoke Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation, there is potential for hundreds of pounds of fresh vegetables each week during the prime harvesting season.
Take To Heart Mill, out on Westside Rd. is the perfect location for the garden as well, with maximum sunlight and a near unlimited source of water through a gravity fed system that taps into a stream further up the road.
Everything that the team does on site they do with the future in mind, said Bruce Borlick, garden coordinator. They have rows of blueberries that will produce in 3-5 years and raspberries that are likely to produce a bumper crop next year.
In order to decide what they should plant, Fraser said Community Connections did a survey with their food bank members. With that feedback, seed donations from West Coast seeds and the intention of growing plants that grew easily and produced large amounts of healthy produce in an efficient amount of area, the garden took shape.
There are rows of greens, a large patch of potatoes and corn, peas, tomatoes, broccoli, beans, peppers, brussel sprouts, and a few flowers thrown in to give the tomatoes flavour and keep the bees coming back.
The soil at the garden is a three part mixture. One part donated by Black Diamond, another part from Andy Buchanan and the third part is a compost mix Starling makes that includes sawdust from the mill.
“I’ve just always felt that someday someone would want to run with this vision,” Starling said. “And the people are really starting to show up right now.”
In the future Starling hopes to be able to grow vegetables for the food bank year round, and is in the midst of constructing a greenhouse that will be heated by the burning of wood waste from the mill in the winter.
See the Food Bank Garden for yourself on Aug. 13 between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. during an open house event.