Every Thursday evening, a group of almost 40 volunteers gather at the three-acre garden plot at Lady Flower Gardens to harvest vegetables for Edmonton’s Food Bank because they want to help the garden help others.
“I’ve had to (use) the food bank, I’m a single mom, went through divorce. It’s time to give back. Pay it forward,” said Jean Harriman, the first volunteer to arrive Thursday to help pick cucumbers and beans.
The garden supplies between 40,000 and 50,000 pounds of food to the food bank every year. Throughout the week, gardeners from 12 different social agencies, such as the Inner City Recreation and Wellness Program, harvest for the food bank and take some product home for themselves. Thursdays are the only time that the general public comes to pitch in to help get the crop off for the food bank.
Co-ordinator Kelly Mills founded the garden seven years ago along with Doug Visser as a charitable offshoot of Riverbend Gardens, because she said she wanted to show the importance of developing an agricultural community.
“We’re trying to say, if you start with the vulnerable, and design a community with them in mind first and foremost, and put them in a position where they are valued and their contributions are also honoured, you’re going to have a healthy community. Everybody’s going to have a better life,” said Mills.
It’s also about learning to live sustainably with the land and with each other, she said. On Thursdays, people can sign up for herbalist Tracy Sharuga‘s guided tours of edible and medicinal plants, learning in and from the nearby old-growth forest.
“Every time I go in there I find something new,” said Sharuga.
Beyond producing food, the aim is simply to be with each other on the land, said Muriel Hogarth, an environmental studies student at The King’s University whose summer internship as a co-ordinator is funded by a grant from the United Nations Association of Canada. Hogarth acts as a kind of greeter, teacher and guide who gets people gardening together as a group.
“It’s not only rewarding for myself, but I see how much it rewards others. Seeing their pride — it’s amazing,” said Hogarth.
Mills hopes that the non-profit’s inaugural fundraising event on Saturday, Aug. 24, dubbed the Galactic Gardens Get-Down and Jamboree, will help raise enough money to support a full-time position for Hogarth next summer.
“If we can have her back next year, not only can she mentor the new student coming in, but she can add on to the existing programming. Plus she’s already developed relationships with the community members who trust her. She’s primo. We want to keep her,” said Mills.