Gardening in Almonte: Give me 5 tons to turn hunger around

David

On a drizzly Saturday October 8 about 30 enthusiastic gardeners, food bank volunteers, media and municipal leaders gathered in front of Smiths Falls Town Hall for the third annual final weigh-in of the Great Veggie Grow-Off.

The excitement was palpable as organizers and representatives of county food banks arrived and set up a tent, tables and weigh scales. The preliminary totals were over 9,600 pounds and we were hoping for some last minute donations that would put us over the 10,000 pound mark. Several folks from Mississippi Mills had brought armfuls of veggies but sadly that only added another 20 pounds. Then, suddenly, from the West, our ‘Hail Mary’ pass arrived. Wendy Quarrington, Coordinator of The Table Community Food Centre in Perth, took me aside and informed me that late the day before they had received another 455 pounds of produce. Not being aware of the palpable excitement, she quietly offered to send me the details in the coming days so as not to upset our careful calculations. Not so fast, I replied! I quickly got the details and reworked the numbers – giving us a grand total of 10,094 pounds and shattering the 5-ton mark!

Our judge and gardening advisor extraordinaire, Ed Lawrence, was quick to analyse the numbers and announce the winners. Mississippi Mills walked away with (but not as quickly as the previous two years) the trophy for the largest amount of fresh garden produce donated to its Food Bank (3,385 lbs.) and Drummond/North Elmsley got the (newly created by local potter Ian Paige) trophy for most food per capita donated to its Food Bank (283 lbs per 1000 persons). In the final analysis though, it is our Food Bank families that came out on top.

The whole county owes a vote of thanks to our very own Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardening project for all their efforts in organizing this summer-long event to get fresh wholesome food to our most vulnerable community members.

A few shots from Elora

As I have done for the last few years, I joined with family members for a Thanksgiving feast at my brother’s home in Elora. My brother, a much more highly qualified horticulturalist than I, took great pride in picking and serving many vegetables from his backyard garden (does sibling rivalry ever fade?).

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A walk around Elora reveals many eerie similarities with Almonte. There are many stone buildings, small shops, evidence of community and cultural activities, protests against water sales and most remarkably, construction of a new hydroelectric facility in the middle of town!

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Build a Mountain

The next big community-wide campaign to support our local food banks has been announced! Town and Country Chrysler in Smiths Falls, along with participating media partners, Metroland Media, TV Cogeco, Lake 88 Radio, and Town and Country TV (TCTV), have joined forces to support area food banks to help fill the shelves this holiday season.

Again this year, the Town and Country Chrysler Build a Mountain of Food Campaign will take place in 11 local towns and villages in support of local food banks. The communities include Almonte, Carleton Place, Perth, Lanark, Smiths Falls, Westport, Elgin, Portland, Merrickville, Athens, and Delta. Over its nine year history Build a Mountain has collected over 550,000 pounds of food and over $260,000.

A number of food blitz days are scheduled at area grocery store locations to help ‘Build a Mountain of Food’. Town and Country Chrysler will be on hand with Dodge Grand Caravans, and along with participating media partners, will be asking people to help Ram the Vans with food to help support our local food banks. All food and money collected in the community stays in the community.

Stay tuned for details as to when Build a Mountain comes to Patrice’s Independent in Almonte.

Final Wrap Potvin Potato Project

I was delighted to attend the Fall Potluck and General Meeting of the Hub and Rebound volunteers and members on October 3rd to provide a report on the Potvin Potato Project (and there was pie!). Being new to such a meeting, I was very pleasantly surprised to learn of the many good things that they do in our community – one of the latest being their generous support of the Mississippi Mills Youth Centre.

I initially made this proposal to the Hub in late March 2016 as vice-chair of the Lanark County Food Bank, recently rebranded as the Hunger Stop – that serves Mississippi Mills, Carleton Place and Beckwith and provides 4 to 5 days worth of food to about 700 clients a month, one-third of who are children. We have a satellite operation at St. Paul’s in Almonte where we bring orders to Almonte clients.

Al Potvin, a resident on Carss St in Almonte had offered us some land, compost and the use of a tractor and equipment to grow produce for the Food Bank. We joined forces with some volunteers from the Hoop Housers to do the heavy lifting and asked the Hub for $500 for seed potatoes, vegetable seeds and mulch. I submitted a proposal to the Hub in late March and was very pleasantly surprised when the Food Bank received a cheque for the full amount a few days later. Al Potvin very generously supplied the equivalent of a dump truck load of well seasoned compost and then spread it and worked it into our potato patch using his tractor and cultivator. Six volunteers from the Hoop Housers (a private group of 18 gardeners) planted a thousand hills of potatoes on May 15 (seven rows 140 feet long). When the potatoes were up about 6 inches I hilled them up the week of June 5th and prepared to add mulch. Three volunteers helped spread sixty bales of hay alongside the rows of potatoes.

As it turned out costs were much lower than estimated. I got a great price on seed potatoes from Five Span Feed and Seed in Pakenham and we had sixty bales of hay donated from the North Lanark Agricultural Society. Councillor Duncan Abbott helped us move it from the fairgrounds to the potato patch using his trailer.

So I approached a couple of Hub volunteers and suggested that I was going to have money left over and proposed shifting some money to another Hoop Houser project – a 1,400 square foot squash patch. They readily agreed. This patch of ground had a lot of perennial grass roots that were proving impossible to dig out. The solution chosen was to buy enough industrial grade landscape fabric to cover the area. Holes were cut in the fabric and squash seedlings and well-rotted horse manure inserted. This approach was amazingly successful with absolutely no weed problem and a squash crop estimated to be around 500 pound of which at least half has gone to the Food Bank. The landscape fabric will be rolled up this week, stored over winter and can be reused for several growing seasons.

The bulk of the potatoes were dug the week of September 11th with a total harvest of over 1100 pounds.  The yield was much below what we had hoped because of extended drought conditions. There is still a bit of money left which will be used to pay for storage of the potatoes at the Two Rivers Food Hub at the Gallipeau Centre in Smiths Falls.