As fall approaches, Home Hardware staff and community members are already preparing the community garden for next year's harvest.
Established in 2016 and home to over 25 different varieties of fruits and vegetables, Home Hardware's Community Garden spans over one acre on a piece of land at its Dealer Support Centre in St. Jacobs.
This year, the garden welcomed 13 new families to one of their 36 family plots.
“I don't know where I would put all my extra free time if I wasn't in the garden,” said Julia Swijters, communications coordinator at Home Hardware, and the driving force behind the garden. “I miss it when it's gone in the winter time and I’m already thinking about next year. It's just a place where my heart is.”
A single mom, Swijters prepares and freezes excess produce to last year-round and is still eating blanched and frozen beans from her harvest last year.
“If I didn't have the food that I produce in my own plot here, it would definitely change my own financial outlook,” said Swijters, who relies on the garden for fresh produce six months a year. “So you can really become self-sufficient that way as a single person rather than someone who would maybe need the food bank's help if I didn't have these resources to fall back on.”
Over seven years the community garden has donated almost 20,000 pounds of produce to local charities, the Meals on Wheels program through Community Support Connections in Breslau, as well as farming ⅓ of the land for the Woolwich Community Services food bank.
While Meals on Wheels receives 589 lbs of food to the food bank’s 1784 lbs, Meals on Wheels “streamlines” its vegetables to allow for more “palatable” options for those receiving food.
“(Meals on Wheels) tend to cook for a lot of seniors and so carrots, cabbage and beets and things like that are high on their list,” said Swijters. “Whereas they wouldn't want hot peppers or anything like that which we are able to send to the food bank.”
According to Swijters, in addition to inflation, global warming has wreaked havoc in the garden this year. Unpredictable weather patterns have made it difficult for volunteers to forecast rain and the plants have suffered as a result.
“We planted just as many seeds this year but the things aren’t getting quite as big and lush,” said Swijters. “Plants died off earlier because they weren't so healthy because of the lack of water.”
For next year, volunteers are looking to incorporate a drip line into the garden, which would water the roots directly.