St. Paul’s Community Garden volunteers keep veggies flowing to local food bank

Volunteers with St. Paul's Community Garden pose at the Winchester garden site, including immediate front (from left) Abe Gilchrist (seated), Tom Clapp and Community Food Share Team Leader Jane Schoones (seated at right). Volunteer coordinator Leslie Levere appears in the middle of the photo, left of the black box. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

WINCHESTER — Volunteers have tripled the size of the community garden at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church this year, and the Louise Street vegetable plot is already yielding a bountiful harvest for food bank clients at Community Food Share (CFS).

Situated across from a popular ice cream wagon and denoted by a large sign among the veggies, the garden is attracting more attention than ever during this, it’s third year of operation.

“And a common question is, where is the food going?” says Jane Schoones, team leader and administrator of the recipient food bank organization, during a special July 23 evening organized outdoors as a ‘thank you’ evening to garden sponsors and 33 volunteers.

A gesture to let them “know how much it’s appreciated by CFS to have an ample supply of fresh produce this year,” each volunteer received a St. Paul’s Community Garden t-shirt sponsored by the nearby Scoop of Jo’s.

All of their effort means that, for the first time, every CFS outlet is distributing fresh vegetables from the community garden at St. Paul’s. In the previous two years, output was limited only to the Winchester depot — but now CFS users in Finch, Crysler and Morrisburg are reaping the benefits as well.

“With the COVID-19 situation, we’re starting to see more people, and to be able to provide fresh produce over a canned product is kind of nice,” observes Schoones. “It’s well-received by our clientele … and the produce we’re getting is unbelievable!”

Beans, tomatoes, peas, carrots, beats, cabbage, Swiss chard, kale and more are represented among the greenery at the site. The garden yielded 8.8 pounds of produce in June, growing to more than 34 pounds to date in July.

Volunteer Leslie Levere coordinates the slew of garden workers for regular picking bees and twice daily maintenance shifts to keep the supply moving out consistently. A full-time summer student at CFS repackages the incoming haul for distribution to the public, and a new three-door reach-in cooler funded by a Food Banks Canada and Walmart Canada grant keeps it fresh. “So everything has really come together,” exclaims the CFS team leader.

Levere volunteered the previous two years as well, but her oversight role coordinating the production effort on the ground is a first for 2020. “It’s just exploded,” Levere exclaims on the level of volunteer activity at the site and the resulting output.

A new drip-irrigation system has also ensured the plants stay lush and productive with the turn of a tap — a fortunate upgrade this spring given the ensuing drought conditions. ‘It’s highly efficient, too,” proudly says the volunteer installer, Abe Gilchrist, who’s experienced in the community-supported agriculture field. (He otherwise assists his partner, Leah Fawcett, at her Plot of Earth garden outside Winchester, which weekly supplies fresh vegetable boxes to customer subscribers.)

Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Cooter’s Garage in Berwick contributed $1,000 to help defray the cost of the irrigation system; true to the name of the garden, a lot of community support has gone into this year’s expansion in the form of such business sponsorship.

The man whose idea hatched the garden three years ago marvels at the level of support. Tom Clapp details how Cedarview Lumber in Winchester supplied the project with an estimated $1,500 to $2,000 worth of free cedar for the raised garden beds (which Gilchrist reconfigured to net two more beds than originally envisioned).

“And then I said, we need soil,” recounts Clapp, “so I went to Gib and Elsie Patterson, and next thing I knew there was soil here!”

Hydro One dropped off wood chips, “and then we were given seeds, and Dundas County 4-H gave us tomato plants. It was really a community thing,” he adds.

Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

The only thing they had to buy was some seed and mulch, and it’s a good thing, too, because a $400 Township of North Dundas grant had to go somewhere. “I had trouble spending it,” Clapp admits with a smile, such was the support for the initiative.

“It bothered me that we had all this land [at the church] and were doing nothing with it,” he explains of the inspiration to make a garden behind the majestic red brick Presbyterian church building three years ago. In previous years, students from Winchester Public School and École élémentaire catholique Sainte-Thérèse-d’Avila in Marionville have helped out at the smaller, original garden plot — participation kiboshed by the pandemic in 2020.

With this year’s garden especially prominent in the neighbourhood, folks are often drawn to take a stroll around the plot while enjoying an ice cream. Whimsically painted little rocks, stashed here and there among the plants, often catch their eye. Handiwork of the congregants at neighbouring Winchester United Church and Hope Springs United Church, the rocks are among the most commented-upon feature of the garden, according to Levere.



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