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Leslie and I at the Volunteer Appreciation Picnic

As a farmer, there are few things that feel as exciting as hints of the arrival of Spring.  The warmth of the sun returns, the smell of damp soil mixes with the crisp air and hopes of bountiful fields and mid-summer harvests jump out of the pages of seed catalogues and trays of emerging seedlings.  

Change is abundant.  Hope is abundant.    

This season, I will be moving on from the Edible Garden Project and Spring will bring me in a new direction.  This has not been an easy decision to make – when I joined the Edible Garden Project community two years ago, it felt like a perfect fit.  

I had spent the past few years farming, and before that had worked in both community development and education, but I had never found a place where all those things came together so harmoniously.  

At our EGP farms, I was a farmer first of all, holding a welcoming and inclusive space for the community and engaging and educating folks young and old about the wonders of growing food sustainably, creatively and efficiently.    

Helping folks at the Food Hub – Sharing the Bounty brings fresh produce to the emergency food stream

That isn’t to say I wasn’t learning as well – I’d say I did more of that.  

I developed a deeper understanding of food justice and food security issues by working alongside Leslie, our Sharing the Bounty coordinator.  

Leslie’s efforts to improve food access on the North Shore are so fundamentally important.  Everyone should have access to fresh, healthy, good quality food and she is constantly striving toward making that a reality.  These innovative programs and their amazing results were the fuel to my fire on the farm.    

I watched our education team, Jillian and Jason, encourage discovery and curiosity on our farms with hundreds of students.  Their boundless energy and passion was infectious – I felt like a kid again when I watched a youngster plant their first seed, dig up the biggest worm ever or taste an edible flower.  

Jillian on the level with a future farmer… maybe!?

Their efforts to show the connection between soil and seeds, between the world and our own backyards, between the food that sustains us and our health will grow with this younger generation and be expressed as they become the stewards of this planet.    

I spent countless hours learning and dreaming with the amazingly talented farmers I had the pleasure of working alongside.  Gavin and Kim both brought a wealth of experience and incredible work ethic – I was in awe with how much we could achieve in a small space when we backed each other up and pushed each other to try new things.  

Kim braiding garlic with our amazing intern crew

I think the most incredible thing I learned during my time at the Edible Garden Project how much impact a community can have when they come together.

Whether it was our beekeeping mentors, Lianne and Trevor, dropping everything to come help us catch a swarm of honeybees, or our neighbours Trixi, Michael, Sandra and Tom managing our Loutet Community Markets, the generosity and commitment within this community is awe-inspiring.  

I watched it in action when hundreds of volunteers of all ages came together to build the Sutherland Schoolyard Market Garden over Spring Break in 2015.  I saw it when Sutherland teacher Cynthia Bunbury volunteered to lead a weekly Garden Club and coordinated special events like Shakespeare in the Garden to engage students and teachers at the high school.    

I witnessed it almost daily as the crew at Gerry’s Garden worked together to beautify our community and create habitat for native bees and birds.  I was humbled every week when our market volunteers showed up to provide local food to their neighbours at our Farm Gate sales.  

Cynthia and the Garden Club – Photo Credit: CBC

I was inspired when I saw the gorgeous harvests heading to the Food Hub thanks to our Sharing Gardeners.  I was energized when we would host work bees at the farm and folks would flip a huge pile of compost or clear a massive area of weeds and invasive species.

I was thrilled when our market regulars would come back week after week to snag our produce or challenge me with gardening questions.  I was honoured when they would share photos of their gardens or their market haul or new recipes they tried with our produce.     

I was moved when our Volunteer Farm Interns found their “farm legs” (like sea legs, but on a farm – that works right?) and took ownership over the success of the farm.  Their dedication and imagination formed a feedback loop of awesome and kept me going when the going got tough.    

Strawberry Harvesting is a group effort!

I guess what I am getting at is that during the past two years I witnessed first-hand the power of providing space and opportunity for folks to connect and share ideas, resources, inspiration and support while growing food.  

While working with management at the North Shore Neighbourhood House and the team at the Edible Garden Project- Lisa, Emily, Kristi, Colleen and those mentioned above- I saw proof positive that good leadership in community development doesn’t mean making all the decisions.  It means listening and responding to the needs of the community and making use of its strengths.  

 I feel as though I could go on forever and still not quite capture and recognize the power of community-engaged food growing spaces.  I am so fortunate to have worked within this incredible environment and I am certain that you all will carry on doing amazing and innovative things to make the world a better, more sustainable and increasingly connected place.  

Growing food as a community has so many benefits beyond the physical yields.  The North Shore community recognizes this.  

Intern Linda and Farmer Holly at a soggy market!

Thank you to everyone who welcomed me into this space and to everyone who will carry it forward.  I cannot wait to see what happens next.  Change is abundant.  Hope is abundant.   It begins with a community and extends globally.

Keep up the amazing work – I will miss you all dearly.  I will never forget all I have learned from this community – it will guide me in my path forward, as I follow my heart toward opportunities in Farmer Education.  

So long, until next time, fare thee well.

Huge hugs and high fives,

Farmer Holly