First-time growers and experienced gardeners have found solace in the soil during the pandemic through the help of a City of Victoria gardening program that supports underserved communities.
Get Growing, Victoria! tackles the challenge of food insecurity by cultivating gardening knowledge and providing people with plants and garden materials to grow food on their own.
The program has been successfully delivering seedlings grown in the City of Victoria nursery in Beacon Hill Park to equity-deserving communities with the help of community groups. These partner organizations support people through their programs, like horticultural therapy for mental health support groups, and gardening and food access programs for community kitchens that support people with disabilities.
Get Growing, Victoria! also helps cut food costs and teaches valuable skills to help people grow food successfully.
The growth of the program has far exceeded expectations.
“It has encouraged community members to start growing their own food for the very first time and has given people who are housebound and isolated due to COVID-19, a safe activity to engage in that is fruitful while also keeping them active,” said Vanessa Rose, Health Support Worker of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre.
“People have been so excited to begin to grow their own food and the free seedling program has helped ease the initial start-up costs. We have also been adding the produce to the weekly food hampers that we provide, and the community has enjoyed receiving fresh organic produce that has been grown onsite.”
Participants sent photos to program coordinators and detailed their excitement of watching their vegetables grow. Kim Cummins, Program Director at Shelbourne Community Kitchen, said that providing the plants, soil and containers allowed participants to start a garden for the very first time.
“In August , staff noticed that some participants were proudly declining produce available through our food distribution program because they now had these vegetables growing at home in abundance. From the stories shared there were both triumphs as well as some frustrations, but what stood out was their joy in the process.”
The program’s far-reaching impact on residents is one of the many reasons Get Growing, Victoria! received BCRPA’s Program Excellence Award.
“We received an overwhelming response to registration, registering almost 65 families. We repeatedly heard ‘We are so glad the City is doing this!’. We heard time and time again that individuals were growing for a variety of reasons but the one that seemed to be coming up most often was for mental health. People quickly turned to growing food, and the City quickly responded to this with action. People felt supported.”
-Emily Hull, previous garden coordinator at Fairfield Gonzales Community Association
Program development of Get Growing, Victoria! began in April 2020, when the City’s Parks Department was directed by Council to refocus some of its capacity to grow food plants from seed in the municipal nursery and greenhouses.
Today, Get Growing, Victoria! is a sustainable program and annual event held from April to September with the goals to grow food, grow gardeners and grow community. In spring and fall, compost and mulch are delivered, while seedling distribution happens bi-annually in May for summer crop distribution and in July for fall and winter crop distribution.
It’s estimated that more than 100,000 pounds of fresh produce is grown through the program each year.
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, more than 450 cubic yards of garden material and 272,000 fresh vegetable and herb seedlings have been distributed to underserved communities.
More than 67 partner organizations and mutual aid groups have helped Get Growing, Victoria! evolve into the program it is today.
“The seedlings are a refreshing opportunity for those who have never grown anything to even those seasoned gardeners who no longer have a garden. Most of the members have only a balcony or window garden but they are excited about seeing the growth and development of each of the different vegetables and full of joy and pride to eat from their own garden. Plants are great company for some that live alone. Also, a great way to stay connected to staff as they report on the different plants and their progress. They have all loved the abundance of fresh produce.”
-Sue-Ann Gentry, Program & Garden Coordinator, New Horizons James Bay Seniors Centre
Sprouting connections led to a collaborative educational campaign called Growing Together, which offers a series of online educational resources from planting information to videos. More than 30 educational videos featuring local experts have been created, many of which are translated into other languages.
Growing Together offers helpful and convenient information to help gardeners succeed.
While its roots were planted in a short-term solution, Get Growing, Victoria! has the potential to span beyond the borders of the Island municipality. The program is a transferable model for future collective partnerships between municipalities and the non-profit sector to build a more localized food system.
Everything you need to know about getting involved in the program, including distribution dates and locations, can be found on the Get Growing, Victoria! webpage.
City of Victoria
Main image: Photo by Aly Sibley Photography
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