Rick Boomer

Rick Boomer

Growing community through gardens in Saanich

Volunteers band together for large community garden at housing complex on Wilkinson Road

In a furious outpouring of energy, dozens of volunteers descended on a low-income complex on Wilkinson Road last Saturday, and built an expansive 10-box community garden, all in less than half a day.

The well organized workparty cleared a patch of lawn and blackberry bushes, hauled earth and hammered boxes and fence posts for a project a few years in the making.

“The veggies and fruit just need to be planted. It is ready to go,” declared Rick Boomer, director of community and care for the Saanich Baptist Church. “We came with a lawn and left with a garden. I can’t wait for people to reap the benefits.”

The 28 families at the Churchill Estates complex, run by the More than a Roof Foundation, now have an expansive garden, but for the volunteers involved, it was an exercise in giving back to the community.

Garden building was one of 10 projects for 300 Saanich Baptist volunteers in Greater Victoria last Saturday in a twice-per-year effort called “serving the city.”

“All the other projects were three hours. We were here until 5:30 p.m. on a hot day,” Boomer said. “I have to give credit to the volunteers from Saanich (Baptist) and Home Depot and this community. It was a huge undertaking to remove blackberry bushes and move soil in the heat of Saturday.”

Pamela Mae, the manager of Churchill Estates, said she’d been dreaming of building a community garden for more than a year, recognizing that many of the tenants struggle to afford high-quality fresh vegetables and fruit.

She admits getting all residents on board “was a tough nut to crack.”

“People were worried kids would lose play space,” she said. “But when they saw what was being built, they said ‘It’s incredible. I want in.’ Now that there is a visual, people are excited about it.

“Ultimately I envision this to be much more than a community garden. This will bring people together. I’d like to see this continue on as a harvest and a meal together.”

Kathleen Busch, a former pastor with the Mennonite church and who works for Woodwynn Farms, was instrumental in drawing in the Baptist volunteers and finding grants from Home Depot ($2,500), the Mennonite City on a Hill Church ($2,500) and private donations.

Allowing residents to grow their own food just made sense, she said.

“The rising cost of food and the recession has hit a lot of people hard,” she said. “I thought it was a great idea to build a community garden for nutritional affordable food.”

Despite her organizational efforts, Busch wasn’t able to help build the garden – she was overseeing 60 volunteers sent by the Saanich Baptists to Woodwynn Farm.

Boomer noted that Home Depot was eager to step up in both gift cards and manpower.

“Home Depot asked: ‘What can we do to help? We want to be involved,’” Boomer said.

“They don’t sell these (garden boxes), so they had guys in their workshop at night cutting and building boxes for us.”

The Baptist volunteers and the housing complex are already contemplating building another set of gardens next year.

“If our tenants are interested in growing their own food, we are going to try to make that happen,” Lorne Epp, executive director of More than a Roof, a Mennonite organization. “Community gardens have been a valuable tenant relations activity – getting people outside and together growing food and enjoying the outcomes together.”