Edible Landscaping makes a better Fort St. John

Much of the 'pizza' garden in front of Fort St. John Public Works building has been harvested, which is what the project coordinators like to see.

There’s a ‘pizza garden’ at the Fort St. John Public Works building – ‘slices’ of corn framed with pole beans, brussel sprouts with frizzy purple kale, some herbs, interspersed with bright red geraniums. The garden is one of several of the city’s Public Works department Edible Landscaping project. Tara O’Donnell, Community Development coordinator in Fort St John, told me that groundskeeper Sonya Runacres began adding fruiting shrubs and trees to the grounds about ten years ago. Three years ago the city introduced the Edible Landscaping project. I wrote about it last November in a blog: http://ww2.producer.com/blogs/global_farmer/wordpress/?p=1198


The project’s showcase garden is at the entrance to City Hall, where Tara works. She often sees parents showing their children the garden. “There are kids who have never seen broccoli except on their plates,” she says. “Kids love it. They get to be hands on.” The community is encouraged to harvest the produce.

“Fort St. John was once an agricultural community,” Tara says. “These are our roots.” The project shows the community ways of growing their own food; helps parents teach their children. It doesn’t take much, just a little imagination, a little knowledge, and a little care. The showcase garden demonstrates what can be done in a small space. By mixing flowers and veggies it can even be beautiful enough for the front yard.

Tara says the showcase garden in front of City Hall has seen better days, but there are still some carrots, brussel sprouts, and cabbages to pick. And it still looks pretty good!

Sonya Runacres says the project is making a difference in the city. She’s maintained a small vegetable garden at the Public Works shop for the staff. “This year I noticed that the business across the street put in their own little garden. They planted potatoes, onions, tomatoes and pumpkins!” She’s also noticed other businesses cleaning up their lots and planting either flowers or vegetables, or both.

In 2011 much of the project’s produce was donated to the local food bank. There won’t be much to donate this year. People have learned they are free to harvest. “Last year I had to pick all the apples from the trees at the Pomeroy Sport Centre, This year the apples were picked clean!” Sonya says.

Sonya tries to plant some of the more unusual vegetables. Many people never knew what kohlrabi were, but found they loved them. A summer student had no idea that brussel sprouts grew on stalks.

Sonya wrote me the benefits:
1. People get in touch with nature. They see that with a little work and planning you can grow many amazing things. With a bit of imagination the combinations can be very eye catching.
2. More and more people understand the benefits of “home-grown” vs “commercially” grown produce. There is just no comparison in taste.
3. The health benefits. People can see what is going into growing their produce; one cannot always be so sure from a commercially grown vegetable.
4. Even those who are not able to grow their own have the opportunity to go to the community gardens. The gardens this year were all sold out! The first time this has happened since they started a few years ago.

Here’s a story Sonya wrote me: “I was picking some strawberries and gooseberries at the PSC one night in August when three kids came by on bikes asking what I was doing. I told them I was picking strawberries to make some jam. They were excited about there being strawberries and asked if they could have some. I told them that everyone was allowed to pick them. I showed them where to find them (these are the alpine variety so they are small but extremely tasty) and they started picking some. They loved them so much they stayed for about 20 minutes just picking berries with me. The littlest one on the other hand was the smarter of the bunch… he just sat beside me and ate the berries out of my bucket!”

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