When the Cherryville Food & Resources Society received a grant in 2017 to support a collective community garden initiative, food bank president Sharon Harvey says she knew exactly who to call to get growing.
As a small, rural community in the North Okanagan area of B.C. with a population of less than 1,000, Harvey says the food bank opted for a community garden model that would be managed by local Cherryville green thumb, Renska Kruijk, on behalf of the food bank and its clients.
Kruijk, a retired phys-ed teacher who remembers her grandparents and parents always having a vegetable garden growing up, was already known for maintaining a highly self-sufficient garden at her home in Cherryville that supplied about two thirds of her household food needs annually.
Supported by a grant from Food Banks Canada, the Cherryville Food Bank was able to help Kruijk expand her plentiful garden and produce over 700 pounds of food for donation within the first year of the initiative — from fruits to greens to root vegetables — that Kruijk says was “grown with love” for food bank clients in need.
The fact that fresh, healthy produce is grown locally and with great care for clients of the Cherryville Food Bank is something that floor manager Michelle Allison says she loves to share during the distribution of their monthly food hampers.
“I really love telling our clients that the food was grown here in Cherryville, and I can see their faces instantly light up when I do,” Allison says. “People feel proud about that. Plus, the produce all smells delicious, and is super fresh and high quality. It feels good to distribute it, and I think people feel good about eating it, too.”
GROWING FOR SELF-SUFFICIENCY
In the six years that have passed since the Cherryville Food Bank’s community garden program first took root at Kruijk’s residence, the master gardener has worked with local teenagers to transform her original, 500-foot veggie garden into approximately 17,000 square feet of productive plots for collective food growing.
“That was one of our goals with the community garden, was to be able to employ a local teenager,” Harvey says. “We don’t have a lot of jobs out here in Cherryville, so to be able to employ a young person and to give them the opportunity to learn about gardening is something that can be life-changing.”
Since May 2021, 18-year-old garden helper Senay Thompson has been responsible for assisting Kruijk with the weekly harvest and — now that she has her first driver’s license — transporting hundreds of pounds of fresh produce from the garden to the food bank for distribution.
“I’ve learned way more than I thought I could about gardening,” Thompson says of her experience at the community garden so far. “Renska is a great teacher.”