Salvation Army Harvest of Hope utilized as educational resource to encourage gardening

·6 min read

The Salvation Army’s new Harvest of Hope garden is not a community garden, instead, it is meant to be an educational resource for the community. According to Carolyn Saunders, food bank coordinator, it’s a place where people who have had lots of gardening experience or absolutely none can share or learn gardening tips and techniques.

“It’s like a safe spot to experiment with different gardening techniques so whether that is box gardening – raised bed gardens, bucket or trellised gardening,” she said. “Even zero till, so no-till – just drop stuff on the ground and cover it with a little bit of soil to see what happens.”

It’s meant to be a place where people can address some of the fears and barriers they might have of starting their garden. Whether that is a lack of space or knowledge, Saunders said Harvest of Hope can be a spot where experimentation can happen to see what works and doesn’t work.

“Stuff that doesn’t work – talk about it,” she said.

This year, Saunders said rabbits were a big issue when the garden was getting started.

“They completely decimated all my beans, all the peas so it was a good learning experience because it’s supposed to be educational,” she said.

The gardeners tried various schemes to deter the rabbits and finally found a solution using cardboard barriers to keep the rabbits out.

“Then I took the cardboard away and it’s at that point now where it’s not the tender seedlings so they will leave it alone,” said Saunders.

“So it’s about finding low-cost solutions to pests… the main thing is it’s an educational, experimental kind of garden.”

All the food produced in the gardens is earmarked to be distributed at the food bank.

She said it’s not a ton of food right now. They did have a late start because they were hoping to have in-person events so people could plant seeds and see them grow but because of COVID, there were too many restrictions for outdoor events.

Then once the planting did start they had the neighbourhood rabbits to contend with and until July, there was no water at the garden. The Municipality of North Perth has provided a remedy to that issue by installing a lawn hydrant.

“So that’s really nice,” said Saunders. “We haven’t had to use it a lot because as of July we got tons of rain.”

She is quite happy about the produce they have been able to harvest so far from the garden.

“All the food – fresh, fresh – picked in the morning and then being delivered so people are getting extremely nutritious produce,” said Saunders. “That’s supplemented by the community garden. They supply us every Wednesday with buckets of food.”

She said they want to show people that they can supplement their groceries with fresh produce even if they don’t have a lot of space.

“Even if you have a patio or a window or somewhere you can hang a basket,” said Saunders

There are plans to expand the garden to include a sitting area with indigenous flowers.

“It’s going to be something to attract pollinators – bees and butterflies,” she said.

They are currently building cold frames which will allow a longer growing season.

“These cold boxes are going to be a way to early start the growing season,” said Saunders.

There will be a frame built above the garden bed with plexiglass in it which will act as a miniature greenhouse and the growing season will be extended allowing late summer planting and succession planting.

“I’ve only been gardening for five years,” she said.

Saunders said she has learned a lot of gardening techniques just from watching videos available on YouTube.

“The focus of this is supposed to be how can you make the most of what you have and what can you do that’s super low cost – whether it’s recycling five-gallon pails or using cardboard to keep rabbits out,” she said.

Many of the plants growing in the garden have been donated by community members and local businesses.

“The community – you put the call out and people respond,” she said. “I’m amazed. I’m new to Listowel. I’ve only been here since November.”

Saunders is originally from Winnipeg but moved to Ontario to attend the University of Guelph.

“I did my master’s degree there which had a focus on food security, very specifically, urban agriculture which is what this is,” she said.

Her studies focused on the social benefits for the individual, the household and then, the community.

“I was in Cape Town, South Africa,” said Saunders. “I was there as an undergraduate and then I went back for my master’s research thesis and it’s funny because they are called Harvest of Hope so it feels a little full circle because now we’re doing stuff from what I learned there and then the hope is to influence... the community… It would be nice to have this be a place where people can gather and hold some courses, some very basic gardening courses, whether it’s talking about companion planting or what sort of flowers should you grow to attract pollinators or succession planting… what can we plant next in the same area that’s going to feed the soil and not deplete it.”

She said she is meeting a lot of people who garden in the community. Many clients at the food bank she said casually tell her they garden and they are very excited to talk about their successful harvest.

However, some people also say they have had to give up their garden because they have moved somewhere with no available space.

“This isn’t a community garden – it is meant for education,” said Saunders.

She hopes people who learn about gardening at Harvest of Hope and need a space might consider getting themselves plot at the community garden to start supplementing their food income.

“The wages to food costs, they just haven’t kept up,” she said. “(It’s great) if you can do something like this where you are supplementing your grocery bill.”

She suggested beans as a plant that will produce a lot of good, healthy food.

“At my home garden we’ve gone through a ton of beans and learning how to preserve certain things because, like oh my gosh, every two days we’re out there trying to keep up with the beans,” said Saunders.

She was so excited when they mentioned that the Salvation Army had this area and for years they had been interested in starting a garden, they just needed someone who wanted to do it. “Then I got hired on in November as a food bank coordinator,” said Saunders. “With my background in urban agriculture and building social capital was a good fit. It’s so nice coming in the morning and picking and watering – it’s just such a nice start to your morning.”

For more information about the Harvest of Hope garden contact carolyn.saunders@salvationarmy.ca.

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner

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