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. 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 donating to other disadvantaged people. They also have begun generating some income for themselves through the sale of their produce. 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 original garden at the Seven Oaks site was started in 2009 through the collaborative efforts of the Blenkinsop Valley Community Association (BVCA) and Seven Oaks. The BVCA approached Seven Oaks representatives in 2008 about the possibility of creating a therapeutic garden and farm stand for the Seven Oaks residents. A joint meeting was held in early 2009 at which an organizational plan was struck. Cheryl Moir and Marilyn Cowland of Seven Oaks managed the project, the BVCA contributed $500 towards the initial costs and David Chambers of Madrona Farm volunteered to till the soil.
While this original garden site has been incorporated into our present garden, Serenity Farm—the participants name for our garden—has its roots in 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, Island Health’s ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) and VICOT (Victoria Integrated Community Outreach Team).
"Working in the garden makes me feel human again."
Jackie Robson - Assistant Coordinator
Finally, after searching for a good site for the garden, Seven Oaks offered their site as a location for the garden, as they wanted to further develop the site.
In 2012, beginning with twelve participants and four volunteers, the project started to prove itself. With this came support from many different parts of the community. Local businesses, groups, and organizations such as C & C Greenhouses, Kennedy Landscaping, the Blenkinsop Valley Community Association, Saanich Parks Department, Investors Group Financial Consultants and others have provided materials, expertise and/or volunteer labour. The United Way, Vancouver Foundation, Victoria Foundation, and local businesses have also provided financial support.
The Victoria Integrated Court, the Island Health Assertive Community Treatment Teams, the John Howard Society’s Manchester House and Seven Oaks provide referrals to the program. Participants earn credit for work hours in the garden, which can be applied to court-ordered community service or probation orders. Stipends are provided for each three hour shift and money donated through sales of produce is divided among the participants based on their hours of work. Participants are encouraged to take home produce, without charge, for their own use.
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 increasingly popular trend of making local and organic vegetables available to the community.
In 2013, the garden shifted from a purely therapeutic project to add an entrepreneurial focus. Garden produce is sold through several markets; Seven Oaks, Ministry of Justice in the Sussex Building in downtown Victoria, The Local General Store on Haultain Street, and Souper Meals.