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Healthier community grown
City's charities will enjoy a wide variety of fresh vegetables this fall thanks to donations from community gardens

Meagan Leonard
Northern News Services
Tuesday, August 18, 2015

More than 1,500 pounds of fresh vegetables is expected to be donated to city charities this fall thanks to the Yellowknife Community Garden Collective.

NNSL photo/graphic

Yellowknife Community Garden Collective site manager Dave Taylor pulls a fresh beet out of a plot at the Woolgar and Kam Lake Road garden. The city's gardening season is at its peak and will be wrapping up in the next couple of weeks. - Meagan Leonard/NNSL photo

Since its inception in 1995, the organization has ensured one quarter of the produce generated from each plot in the city's many neighbourhood gardens is donated. With more space added each year, the volume of fresh vegetables getting to the food banks, the Yellowknife Association for Community Living, the Centre for Northern Families, the YWCA and the Salvation Army continues to grow.

Ryan Wallace, Yellowknife Association for Community Living administrative assistant says they use the donated vegetables to provide healthy meals for clients at the Abe Miller Centre, which facilitates programs for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

He said because fresh food can be more expensive in the North, the donation has really helped staff prepare a wide variety of meals and any leftovers are taken home by clients or their families.

"It increases the health of the meals we're providing at a lower cost," he said. "We do peer support groups on Tuesdays and we have people come in and they organize activities and we'll have a dinner that we cook, we also use it on other days for healthy lunches . it's just a really nice way to add fresh produce into everyone's meals for free."

Woolgar and Kam Lake site manager Dave Taylor said adding close to 100 plots in their Kam Lake and Niven gardens in the last couple of years has really helped increase the amount of vegetables they donate.

He said technically there are not any rules about what you can grow, but staff frequently offer suggestions to would-be gardeners on which vegetables tend to be most successful.

"We don't want invasive things like raspberries . or ornamentals," he said. "It should be predominantly vegetables . potatoes, beans, lettuce, kale, peas, carrots - short-season items."

Because the growing season in Yellowknife only lasts from the end of May to beginning of September, with frost coming as early as August, certain options aren't really viable, he explained. He said vegetables requiring a longer gestation and high heat such as tomatoes, corn and squash, don't tend to do as well.

Despite a finicky climate, there are still many options to choose from. Lone Sorensen is part of a variety of gardening and agriculture initiatives in the city and says she has grown some very unexpected items over the years, including edible chrysanthemums and Swiss chard.

"It took a while - first to learn how to grow them and then how to implement them into my diet," she said with a laugh. "I've really been playing with colourful vegetables - instead of just white cauliflower, I'll do a mix (of) green or purple or cheddar coloured; that's really a lot of fun."

100-mile diet possible

Last week, Sorensen prepared an entirely locally-sourced meal for a community event and said, while it was challenging, implementing a 100-mile diet in Yellowknife can be done. She said she prepared trout caught in Lutsel K'e, broccoli and carrot salad from local gardens, egg salad with eggs from Arctic Farmer Nursery in Kam Lake and a berry crumble with fruit she harvested at home.

"There's a certain freedom that comes when we know that we can feed ourselves," she said. "It's the antidote to almost every problem we have: illness, equality and depression . it's also good for the economy and builds the community."

The gardens are in their harvesting peak right now and will continue producing until the first frost. Taylor says the peas, beans, beets, potatoes, spinach, kale and lettuce are all ready to eat, so for the next few weeks, they will be busy processing the produce.

"We've been picking beans for a week or so and we've already started pickling," he said.

The amount of produce collected and donated will be recorded and published on the organization's website sometime next month.

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