Vancouver Island residents turn their yards into gardens and encourage others to do the same
Community groups are encouraging more people to grow food gardens amid COVID-19
Digging in the dirt with his wife, his three children and his chickens is where Gary MacDougall is most at home.
MacDougall and his family moved to Oak Bay a decade ago and started a small backyard garden. In the years since, it has grown and grown and grown again, now encompassing the entire front yard, along with a homemade greenhouse and chicken coop.
"We have apples, pears, almonds, and cherries. We have plums in the back. We got lemons. We got peaches, raspberries, blueberries and asparagus, and that's just the perennials," he said.
MacDougall's love of gardening goes beyond his own property. He started a gardening collective and runs a Facebook page called Grow The Food You Love.
"There are so many resources out there that people can learn from," he said. "We share seeds and starter plants and do free Q&As every Saturday morning."
MacDougall is not alone in his efforts to get more people growing food in their yards. A number of Victoria-based organizations that focus on food security have launched a campaign called Growing Together to encourage just that.
The campaign includes groups The Good Food Network, The Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable, The Foodshare Network and more.
Gardening is like coming home
For Terri Barnhard and her partner Wayne Hunt it was a Facebook post from the Indigenous Foods Initiative that got their gardening efforts off their back deck and into their yard in the Victoria neighbourhood of Burnside.
After expressing interest in growing plants native to Vancouver Island, the Indigenous Foods Initiative set them up five large planter boxes behind their house, and they are planning to expand.
"We are going to grow melons and pumpkins out front with sunflowers," said Barnhard.
Barnhard and Hunt are both Songhees, and were adopted to non-Aboriginal families as part of the Sixties Scoop — the mass removal of Indigenous children from their families into the child welfare system, in most cases without the consent of their families or bands.
Hunt says growing plants indigenous to Vancouver Island and learning their traditional uses feels like coming home.
"The whole process is coming full circle in a way," said Hunt. "We know that once we get these skills we will be able to do it again next year and be able to share our knowledge."
Jennifer Rashleigh is also looking to share her knowledge. She got started early, spending hours in her grandmother's garden before helping found the non-profit Farmers on 57 in Vancouver.
"I was mostly growing food, but I quickly realized that what I was really doing was growing community," she said.
Four years ago, Rashleigh moved to North Saanich, taking up residence in her grandmother's old home and taking over the garden. Rashleigh, who is also a horticultural therapist , says when the COVID-19 pandemic hit she knew her efforts needed to expand.
In the last month and half she tore up and tilled her front yard.
"We simply want to have more food on our table that we grew ourselves," she said "And I also feel it's important to show people, encourage people and inspire people to do it as well."