Community garden growing strong

Interest in Penticton's community garden continues to blossom as more and more people take an interest in where their food comes from

Program co-ordinator Barbara Stewart of the Salvation Army does some work in the garden on Martin Street where volunteers and community kitchen participants can hone their skills. The produce from the garden is then used at the kitchen for cooking lessons.

Program co-ordinator Barbara Stewart of the Salvation Army does some work in the garden on Martin Street where volunteers and community kitchen participants can hone their skills. The produce from the garden is then used at the kitchen for cooking lessons.

Carol Allen has been president of Penticton’s Community Garden Society for seven years; enough time, she said, to see some major growth and changes in attitude.

There has been a groundswell of interest in gardening and community gardens over the last few years, according to Allen, who is seeing more and more articles on the Internet and in magazines.

“I don’t think it’s a flash in the pan. I don’t think it’s going to go away,” said Allen. “People are a lot more concerned about where their food comes from. I think there is a lot more incentive for people to get out there and grow their own, as much as possible.”

And there has been a change in the attitude of gardeners with plots in the Penticton Community Garden on Vancouver Hill. It’s no longer “bragging rights for the occasional meal,” according to Allen, with people growing food for the occasional salad, or some fresh tomatoes or corn.

“Now I find that people are really knuckling down and thinking about trying to preserve their own food. It’s being taken a lot more seriously, I think,” said Allen, who estimates about 80  per cent of the garden is under food production, though there are still a few that grow primarily flowers.

“I am always happy to see that, it brings in pollinators for one thing. It’s also nice on the eye to look around and see things blooming,” she said.

Despite a recent expansion to the gardens, Allen said they already have a waiting list and could expand again, there is so much interest.

But there is more going in the community than just the Penticton Community Gardens. Naramata Elementary also operates a communal garden. And the Penticton Urban Agriculture Association is also spreading the word about gardening in the city from their garden and classroom on Ellis Street. And a new group just received a lease from city council to create a neighbourhood garden at 2460 Baskin St.

Then, too, said Allen, there is the Salvation Army.

“I am actually consulting for the Salvation Army,” she said. “There is a woman named Donna Benson who has a business she runs out of a house, and she has a whole backyard she has given over to growing food for the Salvation Army.”

According to Barbara Stewart, program co-ordinator for the Salvation Army, this is the second year Benson has donated use of her backyard.

“Volunteers from the Salvation Army and participants in the community kitchen are able to go try their hand at gardening,”said Stewart.

Produce from the garden goes first to the community kitchen for cooking lessons, according to Stewart, and then out through the food bank foyer to increase the amount of fresh local green produce.

“The main aim is better nourishment for food bank clients,” said Stewart. “It’s long been in people’s mind that they donate nonperishable, canned goods. We just want to educate people that we are equipped to handle fresh local stuff. As soon as it comes in the back door it goes out the front door. It just happens that quickly.”

But besides supplying the food bank with fresh produce, Stewart said their aim is to educate, which is why the Vancouver Foundation supplied them with a grant to bring in Allen, who supplies her expertise to teach people who have never tried their hand at gardening before.

“That’s the real bonus of this site,” said Stewart, who estimates they have about 35 volunteers. “Carol Allen has donation beds up there on Vancouver Hill and PUAA brings us beautiful produce. But the beauty of the Martin Street community garden is that we are using it as a teaching place.”