Feeding Ourselves and Others is a community partnership providing therapeutic food growing opportunities for people who have challenges including mental illness, addictions and/or criminal offences. The Project is sponsored by the John Howard Society of Victoria and is a unique partnership between the Society, Island Health, the Assertive Community Treatment Teams (ACT), Victoria Integrated Community Outreach Team (VICOT), the Victoria Integrated Court and the Seven Oaks Tertiary Care Facility. Our 14,580 square foot garden is located in front of Island Health’s Seven Oaks Care facility in the Blenkinsop Valley. Through this program, the participants gain useful skills and experience working in an organic garden, and are able to grow organic food for themselves and for donation to others in need. They also have begun generating some income for the project through produce sales. Finally, they develop stable and positive interactions with other participants and volunteer mentors, and are able to improve their physical and mental health in the process.
How did this unique project happen and why? The garden has its roots in the community. It began in the fall of 2011 with the commitment of two people, provincial court judge Ernie Quantz and his wife Ardelle, a Master Gardener, to establish a therapeutic garden for offenders engaged with the Victoria Integrated Court system. They found, and recruited, the services of David Stott, a former organic farmer and community developer with an extensive history establishing and coordinating community gardens for disadvantaged people. Together they were able to secure support and assistance from the John Howard Society as official sponsor and Island Health’s ACT and VICOT teams.
"Working in the garden makes me feel human again."
Jackie Robson - Assistant Coordinator
After searching for a good site for the garden, Seven Oaks offered their site as a location. They had an existing garden site, which had been developed previously through the collaborative efforts of the Blenkinsop Valley Community Association (BVCA) and Seven Oaks. It had been fallow for a couple of years and was just right for a new garden project.
The first garden started in 2012 with twelve participants and four volunteers. Support for the program came from many different parts of the community. Local businesses, groups, and organizations such as C&C Growers, Kennedy Landscaping, Saanich Parks Department, West Coast Seeds, Blenkinsop Valley Community Association, RBC Volunteers and Investors Group, along with many others have provided materials, expertise and/or volunteer labour. The United Way of Greater Victoria, Victoria Foundation, Island Health and others have also provided financial support.
Referrals to the program come from the Victoria Integrated Court, the Island Health Assertive Community Treatment teams, the John Howard Society’s Manchester House and Seven Oaks. Participants earn credit for work hours in the garden, which can be applied to court-ordered community work service. Stipends are provided to the participants for each three hour shift worked in the garden. Participants are encouraged to take home produce from the garden (without charge) for their own use.
Over the years the garden has shifted from a purely therapeutic project to one that also has an entrepreneurial focus. Garden produce is sold to the Local General Store on Haultain Street and Soup-er Meals, as well as a weekly community food box program. Sales from the garden generate around $7,000 per year which helps fund a portion of the various aspects of the program. Produce is also donated to community agencies.
The Project Coordinator, David Stott, and the Assistant Coordinator, Jackie Robson provide leadership and expertise to the volunteers and participants. They both have extensive histories working with organic gardening techniques and, through their guidance, the garden has joined the trend of making local and organic vegetables available to the community.
Additional details can be found in our most recent yearbook: