A few years ago I received a call from Donna Hannah, who wanted to show off her massive daikon radishes. I made my way to her house on Fourth Street and found myself entering the most amazing garden I had seen to that point, with row upon row of fruits and vegetables that are too numerous to list off.
I ended up running an entire photo spread.
Hannah’s garden is one of 30 being featured in Mountain Harvest: Revelstoke’s senior gardeners share their secrets, a new book being put out by the North Columbia Environmental Society.
“There are expert gardeners in our community whose health is falling or they’re passing away and I think it’s really important to preserve their knowledge,” said Laura Stovel, who wrote the book based on interviews with 37 gardeners in Revelstoke.
Hannah’s story is similar to many of the seniors featured in the book. As a little girl growing up in Salmon Arm she and her sister would go door to door selling fruits and vegetables. Later, her family moved to Albert Canyon where they ran a dairy farm. They would send bottles of milk on the early morning train and the empties would be returned in the afternoon.
“For most of us seniors that have good gardens, we probably all had a garden when we were very young,” she said.
The 144-page book, which was designed by Carly Moran, features profiles on everyone who was interviewed, as well as gardening tips they provided. It also provides an agricultural history of the area. Marilyn James speaks about the Sinixt First Nations harvesting in the area, while several former farmers talk about what it was like farming before the flats south of town were flooded.
“They tell very similar stories of selling their produce,” said Stovel. “There’s a lot of that history that’s in the book in the well.”
Stovel spoke about a few of the people who were interviewed. She mentioned one man who never went to school, yet is “an engineer of the greenhouse,” with a wood stove to heat it and a complete irrigation system that captures rainwater.
She mentioned Ken Sakamoto, whose family farm was confiscated by the Canadian government and his family placed in an internment camp near Sandon during the Second World War. Johnny Peluso talks about picking and selling wild oregano as a child. Rhonda and Oly Brunetti show their process of making wine.
“We wanted to interweave the history into this book and make it both really interesting with the profiles and make it a how to,” said Stovel. “It’s the secrets of the gardeners. It’s got a lot on how different gardeners approach gardening.”
I asked Hannah about her approach and what advice she had. She gets started with transplants in her greenhouse in January and starts working the soil when the snow melts. She said she makes sure every bit of garden waste she has goes right back in the ground – beet tops, corn stalks and more.
Stovel stressed that the people featured aren’t necessarily the best gardeners in town, but they were the ones who shared their stories.
“I learned we have some incredible seniors in this community with some powerful stories and amazing knowledge,” she said.
Mountain Harvest: Revelstoke’s senior gardeners share their secrets will be on book shelves in late November for $25. Pre-sales can be made at Chantilly Kitchen Bed and Bath for $22.