Garden idea flourishes with UW help

If you give someone food, they will eat for a day. 

But there are both skills to be learned, and food to be had if you teach them how to build a garden and grow fruits and vegetables. 

GardeningWEBSize.jpgThat’s what the Port Alberni Association for Community Living (PAACL) has been learning with their garden project, which began as an idea to do a small backyard container garden, but has since grown to something much larger with the help of United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island (UWCNVI) funding. 

PAACL provides a variety of supports to everyone from infants to adults who have developmental delays. These services include community inclusion programs, early learning and development supports, employment programs, day programs, residential group homes and more. 

The idea for a garden grew out of the interest of a youth and a former staff member from PAACL’s Child and Youth with Special Needs program. When a group home manager offered up yard space, the project had the room it needed. But it was a UWCNVI grant through the federal government’s Emergency Community Support Fund (providing support during the COVID-19 pandemic) that allowed the garden to evolve into what it is today, says Children's Services Manager with PAACL, Julie Wakefield. 

“We have created it to be COVID safe … and wheelchair accessible,” says Wakefield. “We’ve built 19 eight-by-four-foot planters. And, utilizing the fact that there is chain link fence around the property, we are building boxes that lean up against the fence so that we can do natural, vertical growing. We’ve also created eight-foot archways … They will have your zucchinis and your cucumbers and your squashes … We’ve purchased herb boxes,” she says, and there is yet more to come. 

“We’re trying to be as conscientious as we can in terms of utilizing the space effectively, but also making sure that it is COVID-safe.” 

After that, it’s largely up to the youth and other program participants to decide what they want to grow. That has led to some interesting inclusions in the garden.  

“One youth last year wanted to grow parsnips, so we grew some parsnips,” says Julie. A pear tree and goji berry tree are also in the garden thanks to youth interest. 

“What we really want to do is expand on what the youth are already eating,” she says, wanting the garden to be as useful as possible to parents and families by providing types of food that their kids will eat. 

With the pandemic bringing issues of food security to the forefront, the garden is becoming not just a learning opportunity, but an important way for families to supplement their groceries without increasing their bills. 

In addition, the garden and grant allowed PAACL to hire some of its own program participants to help build the garden, earning them some work experience, while others participate in other ways, helping with landscaping, pruning, watering, weeding and more. 

However, the greatest impact the garden has on these gardeners is the satisfaction of bringing food home to their families, says Julie. 

“Being able to contribute to your home, to your family, and say, ‘Hey mom, here are some carrots or here is a bag of potatoes.” 

And while being able to bring some veggies is a welcome confidence boost now, knowing how to grow your own food can become an important skill for people who may have to contend with living on little income as adults. The garden helps to equip program participants to do that, says Julie. 

With the garden continuing to expand in scope and size, and receiving additional support from the Port Alberni community, Julie and PAACL’s vision is to have it producing fruit and vegetables year-round, and become an even more valuable resource into the future for its program participants and its community. 

By choosing to donate to United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island, you help make capacity-building projects like this possible in your community. Please, if you can, consider donating today. If you can’t and are in need of support, please reach out for help by calling 2-1-1 to learn how to access supports.