Sander Eijgenraam, president of the Central Saanich Community Gardens Society, was struggling to find words when asked about the opening of the Clarke Road facility on Saturday.
“I have no words,” said Eijgenraam told Black Press Media beforehand. “It’s such an accomplishment. It’s so satisfying.”
The opening, which welcomed Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor and Coun. Zeb King, pushes a project over the finish line that began germinating in fall 2019. After nearly three years of work, much of it done during a global pandemic, the Peninsula’s largest municipality has a community garden with 19 garden beds and six households on the waiting list. The society has also reserved a bed for BGCSVI (formerly Boys and Girls Club) Central Saanich, which directly neighbours the facility.
Many hands, including staff from the District of Central Saanich, contributed to the project.
“On a purely personal note, I’m absolutely flabbergasted by the support that came in; volunteers in the community, people who showed up randomly and said ‘I’m going to help you build this thing,’ businesses that donated time, money, materials. We had support from all over,” Eijgenraam said.
Donations of cash, material and volunteer hours totaled at least $35,000, he added. “This is not counting all the work that has been done pre-construction. (Central Saanich) has provided us with the water hookup (valued at $2,000), waiving of rezoning costs, a pathway, property tax exemption and $6,000 seed money.” He singled out municipal staff for their support in realizing the project.
Windsor praised the gardens.
“I’ve seen firsthand the incredible community building taking place at the garden,” he said. “It’s a multi-generational gathering place where members are sharing seeds, learning from each other and building friendships. Community gardens are about food security, certainly, but also much more.”
Eijgenraam said improving food security was its driving inspiration. “It’s almost ironic that in a town that it is so agricultural and has such a rich agricultural history, that there was no community garden available for people who don’t have their garden bed.”
Central Saanich’s history and present as an agricultural hub is well documented, but the community is changing, with increased density in Saanichton and Brentwood Bay, where a growing number of people are living in buildings with little or no chance to garden.
Eijgenraam said COVID-19 has exposed supply chain issues that could impact food availability in the future. Rising inflation is also making for difficult for individuals of lesser means to access healthy food.
“Everybody who is involved in this project believes that everybody should have the ability to grow their own food.”
Another attractive feature of the facility, he said, is its ability to create a sense of community. “You are with other people. You are exchanging knowledge, you are being social, you are learning. That’s an added value of a community garden.”
This benefits not only the garden members, but the community at large as the society plans to offer workshops.
It is also thinking about what Eijgenraam called a second iteration of the facility. But that is the future and the society is focused on being financially healthy and self-sustaining before considering expansion.
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