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Last harvest of the season

Julia Swijters at the Home Hardware community garden across from their headquarters in St. Jacobs, which produced 3,000 lbs of food that was donated to the WCS food hamper program. [Ali Wilson / The Observer]
Julia Swijters at the Home Hardware community garden across from their headquarters in St. Jacobs, which produced 3,000 lbs of food that was donated to the WCS food hamper program. [Ali Wilson / The Observer]
Harvest season upon us, one last pass through a St. Jacobs community garden collected another 400 pound of produce for the Woolwich Community Services food bank.

The Home Hardware garden adjacent to the company’s headquarters supplied WCS with 3,000 lbs of food in just its second year of operation.

Home Hardware’s staff and their families attended last week’s harvest, with many hands making light work. Along with the produce, they delivered a donation of $2,400 from a variety of fundraising initiatives.

The garden itself came to fruition after Julia Swijters, services coordinator, retail education and communication with Home Hardware Stores Ltd., heard of their Orillia store housing an onsite garden for their local food bank. After getting enthusiastic support from the head office, she put out a survey to employees, offering people the option to have their own plot, to maintain a plot for the food bank or a multi-use plot servicing both themselves and the food bank.

“It worked out for the best. We had 17 family plots in our first year, but this year we had 36, so we grew immensely,” Swijters explained. “I enjoy it because I work in a cubical and that’s not necessarily where my heart lies. I would much rather be out in the dirt, but this is the way that I have really nice conversations with people all day long – I might pass the CEO and he will be, like, ‘how is the garden growing?’ It’s wonderful. That’s the kind of thing that makes me smile and really appreciate working for a company like this,  and realize that the work we do is really important.”

Swijters says the year has yielded growth within the operations and efficiency of the garden.

“The first year we were new to this, we didn’t really know what we were going to grow. We had seeds donated from our venders, so we just kind of grew what was available to us. We did just over 2,300 lbs, and then this year we just cleared 3,000 lbs and actually got much more efficient,” she explained.

Contributions to the food bank were a real team effort at the head office, Swijters notes, with everyone doing what they could to make it possible.

“We have a core group of individuals. Some of them don’t have their own plots, they just grow for the food bank and then they come out every Sunday morning as a group and we do a harvest or any group work. Then Monday morning our maintenance crew is taking the mail over to Elmira, so they just throw it in the van with them and we had this whole little system,” she said of harvesting the food and delivering it to WCS.

Spanning across the one-acre garden were 36 family plots, a third of the garden being farmed with the intent to support the food bank. Their ongoing support of WCS made the organization the clear choice as beneficiaries.

“We at Home Hardware work quite frequently with WCS,” she said.

Beets, onions, potatoes, raspberries and rhubarb were among the fresh produce donated to help fill food hampers on a weekly basis for 68 families in need.

“Our food bank wouldn’t be able to operate without these very generous donations,” said WCS executive director Kelly Christie. “The fresh produce provided healthy snacks for the kids in our lunch program, and many families looked for ways to preserve the vegetables so they could keep food on the table for months to come.”

Community and family is what it is all about, Swijters says – they opened up the garden to extended family of staff and that has made it a great atmosphere to work in, for a great cause.

“My son is nine years old and he will come out to the garden. We have a gentleman who works here with a 100-foot plot and quite a few children so they all come out and will help – they sit on their buckets and pick beans. The older ones put the ball game on the radio and it is really nice just to see that whole demographic of retirees and their grandchildren in the garden too. When you hear little kids laughing in the garden it is just so sweet,” she said.

Looking forward, Swijters has high hopes for growth for the garden.

“If I do the multiplication we are just going to keep growing,” she said. “And looking at if we are having such success looking to other food banks in the area so that if we are doing so well that maybe we could start supporting more going forward.”

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