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Urban farm offers ‘a vision of sustainability’

Urban farm offers ‘a vision of sustainability’

Master gardener Michelle Young, brought on board this year, is particularly impressed with the effect of the garden on the student employees. “Within minutes of com- ing in to work, they have unplugged the electronic devices, and are enjoying the peace of the garden.” PHOTO HEATHER JEAL

Master gardener Michelle Young, brought on board this year, is particularly impressed with the effect of the garden on the student employees. “Within minutes of com- ing in to work, they have unplugged the electronic devices, and are enjoying the peace of the garden.” PHOTO HEATHER JEAL

On a reclaimed former tailings pond at the edge of Lehigh Hanson’s Sechelt site, a thriving urban farm bursts with healthy produce destined for the tables of Coastal residents. With roots in an experimental “employee garden,” the one-acre farm site is blossoming into a major and very diverse pesticide- free food source, producing mainly heritage varietals.

Shortly after his Salish Soils operation began producing rich loam from composted green waste five years ago, entrepreneur Aaron Joe approached Lehigh’s site manager with a proposition: using volunteer labour and donated materials, his company would cooperate in reclaiming a portion of the site and turning it into a productive garden. The project began modestly, with a few raised beds, a few fruit trees and berry bushes. Each year, more land is developed and made productive; at present, about an acre is under cultivation. “Going forward, we can only see growth,” says Joe, who is working with the band to develop a vision for reclaiming more of the minesite and hopes to see the urban farm encompass about 25 acres in time. “It’s important for the community to be able to access wholesome, healthy foods and build our localized food economy. And as the farm is located less than a mile from downtown Sechelt, it fits the environmental niche.”

The Salish Soils team continue to augment the land with regular applications of rich black topsoil and the result is a harvest of good, fresh and pesticide-free food in unforeseen abundance. This year, the urban farm is producing food for sale at the Salish Soils office ‘farmgate’ and at farmers’ markets. In accordance with First Nations tradition, surplus is regularly shared with the elders and the less fortunate. In 2013, regular deliveries to the Food Bank from the Salish/Lehigh garden were very welcome and very generous, says Sunshine Coast Food Bank coordinator Dale Sankey. Many Coast residents ‘grow a row’ for the Food Bank, or share their produce have raised the bar in this regard.

Joe’s overall vision is “not just for the shíshálh, it’s for First Nations across Canada, a vision of sustain- ability for the First Nations people who are in pursuit of sustainable jobs and keeping our people working.” By adding the urban farm component to the Salish Soils operation, Joe has closed the waste-to-resource loop composting green waste into soil, which grows food, with seed harvested and more green waste as byproducts, which are then composted into soil, and so the cycle continues.

“Making soil is a blend of art and science,” Joe ex- plains. “The art of perfecting a batch, and the science of testing and making sure it’s pathogen-free, and safe for growing food and gardens.”

“To me, there’s nothing more satisfying than know- ing we are creating a healthy lifestyle, and creating jobs that put food on the table.”

Heather Jeal

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