Rural community plants year-round sustainable food solution
When a seed of excitement is planted in a community, that enthusiasm often spreads, making space for positive change to germinate and transform into something beautiful. That’s exactly what’s happening in Burton, BC and the surrounding area since Arrow and Slocan Lakes Community Services (ASLCS) initiated a Food Access and Recovery project.
With increasing fuel costs, inflation and climate change creating barriers to food access, the organization was inspired to find a sustainable year-round solution to ensure residents benefit from fresh, healthy and affordable food. Knowing the project will feed their rural population is rewarding for Margaret Driscoll, ASLCS Operations Manager.
“Being able to reach out to the communities that we serve, especially the rural ones, is a privilege for us; we’re providing services outside of the main hub of Nakusp to reach those more remote folks,” she says. “There are so many people out there I think we’re unaware of, and this is an interesting inroad to that.”
The multi-year project includes a community garden and a kitchen renovation at the Burton Community Hall, project space gained through a partnership with the Burton Community Association. Progress is well underway since ASLCS received funding from Columbia Basin Trust, which included expert guidance from a food advisor, who helped ASLCS draft a comprehensive food access and recovery plan.
Because Burton is without a grocery store, post office or gas station, locals have become incredibly resourceful in growing their own food. However, many only have enough property to plant fast-growing crops such as lettuce, spinach, kale, peas and beans. Utilizing the space at the community garden for larger crops like winter squash and potatoes will sustain them through winter. Six community members are now growing garden patches this summer, with some donating produce to the project’s recently established food pantry.
A CATALYST FOR SELF-SUSTAINABILITY
Participating in the journey from blank canvas to landscape design, seed planting and, finally, harvest is an incredibly rewarding experience for Tina Knooihuizen, ASLCS Project Coordinator. She finds satisfaction in participating in a project that deeply benefits the community and is currently leading volunteers in gardening the newly renamed BEE HAPPY Burton Community Garden.
“I am so pleased with the progress of the garden,” she says. “Contributing to and witnessing the culmination of all the generous donations and tireless efforts put forth by so many volunteers and our fabulous summer employee, Keely, has been very satisfying.”
BEE HAPPY includes a few Indigenous elements, including the Three Sisters planting practice where corn, squash and pole beans are planted side by side as companions to help each other grow. They’ve also dedicated a garden bed to locally found edible plants and planted a dress form with red scarlet runner beans in remembrance of missing and murdered Indigenous women and children.
The project emphasizes the importance of education, with the community’s older generations passing down a wealth of knowledge after decades of growing, canning and dehydrating food; kids were also invited to learn through participation this year.
“I had the pleasure of welcoming Burton Elementary students to lend a hand planting pumpkins, squash, potatoes and sunflower seeds,” Knooihuizen says. “It was a joy to witness their enthusiasm! Some of them have come back to check on the progress, and I look forward to their return in the fall to help harvest.”
The garden committee of numerous volunteers helps with planting, weeding, lawn maintenance and fence building. Some are even researching what grows best in the region’s climate — and tracking crop production is just one of the ways the project is a catalyst for self-sustainability.
KITCHEN UPGRADE SUPPORTS FOOD PROCESSING ASPECT
Renovations to the commercial kitchen are next; Knooihuizen confirms that the appliances have all been ordered and they’re looking forward to creating an accessible space for people of all abilities. The upgrade includes a large cooler, a deep freeze to stock produce throughout the winter, a new cooktop, and preserving equipment for dehydrating and canning. The new equipment is critical to improving local food access, no matter the circumstances.
Produce will be harvested, processed and preserved in the upgraded kitchen and shared with the community via the food bank. As this initiative blossoms, Knooihuizen has already seen a positive impact.
“We have a BEE HAPPY community food pantry set up just outside the garden that operates on the honour system,” she explains. “The sign reads, ‘Take what you need, leave what you can,’ and we’ve been fortunate to receive donations of money and produce from local growers. Being an active participant in something so beneficial to a community and witnessing the transformation from a mere concept to a tangible reality is remarkable, and I hope the BEE HAPPY Burton Community Garden is a destination location for years to come.”