Greater Victoria kids keen to get hands dirty

Family looks to grow 4-H gardening club with new members from around Capital Region

Sheila Jones and her 11-year-old children Katie and Dominic van Oort stand amid Dominic’s Scarlet runner beans last year

Sheila Jones and her 11-year-old children Katie and Dominic van Oort stand amid Dominic’s Scarlet runner beans last year

Dominic van Oort likes to take a stroll around his backyard, packing strawberries, tarragon, tomatoes and other fresh herbs he’s grown into kale leaves fresh from his garden.

There he has it: a homegrown snack he’s dubbed the “outdoor sandwich.”

But don’t let the 11-year-old’s zest for freshness overshadow his keen eye for all things culinary.

Dominic and his twin sister Katie, members of the South Malahat 4-H’s Garden Club, aren’t just avid gardeners, they’re budding chefs, augmenting their meals with homemade berry vinegars, apple lemon jelly, mint and chive pesto, fresh salsa or a fennel, dill and tarragon white bean dip – all prepared themselves with food they’ve learned to grow on their own.

“I thought it was great to be able to make your own food,” said Dominic, between comments on how the late spring killed his squash season last year and diminished the size of his rainbow tomatoes.

The two were impressed by British chef and opponent of processed foods Jamie Oliver during a TED talk and have since invested themselves in growing their own food.

Dominic and Katie are in their third year with 4-H and showed their final projects of year 2 at the Saanich Fair last fall.

Katie opted to spend the growing season tending to several hypertufa planters around the backyard of their Quadra/Cedar Hill neighbourhood home, while Dominic chose to follow a more traditional vegetable garden structure and canned much of his harvest. His legendary pickles were a personal highlight.

“All the stuff we make in the summer lasts us all the way until next year,” said Katie.

She doesn’t see becoming a “hardcore farmer” in her future, she added, despite her enthusiasm in the Jerusalem artichokes she purchased after an inspired encounter with local organic gardener and author Carolyn Herriot.

The van Oorts and 16 other members of the South Malahat 4-H Community Club meet monthly at the Prospect Lake Community Hall in Saanich.

The Garden Club remains a small section of the greater group, however.

Sheila Jones, the van Oort’s mom and a 4H leader, said a few new youths came on board last month, but it would be nice to see more “city kids” get involved.

More members would allow the group to take on community projects as opposed to just home-based initiatives.

“It’s not just kids raising goats,” said Jones, whose older son is involved in the small engines section of the club. “We interpret it in a way that’s fun for us.”

She has considered creating a kids’ gardening podcast featuring Katie and Dominic, who have also taken home public speaking awards from 4-H, in addition to recognition for their gardening expertise. For now, however, Jones would like to see her kids encourage other young people via face-to-face interactions with their hands in the dirt.

“There’s a lot of scope,” she said. “If you’re creative you can do a lot of fun stuff with this. I’m trying to encourage them to go down the road of urban gardening, to encourage them to develop a love of looking after their own diet.”

The inside dirt

• The 4-H Garden Club is open to anyone nine to 19 and costs $90 annually.

• For more details, visit, call Sheila Jones at 250-294-1054 or email