Sander Eijgenraam, president of the Central Saanich Community Gardens Society, struggled for words when asked about the opening of the Clarke Road facility on Saturday.
“I have no words,” Eijgenraam told Black Press Media beforehand. “It’s such an accomplishment. It’s so satisfying.
The opening, which hosted Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor and council. Zeb King, is pushing a finish line project that began to sprout in the fall of 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 beds and six households on the waiting list. The company has also reserved a bed for the BGCSVI (formerly Boys and Girls Club) Central Saanich, which is directly adjacent to the establishment.
Many hands, including Central Saanich District staff, have contributed to the project.
“On a purely personal note, I am absolutely flabbergasted by the support that has come; volunteers in the community, people who randomly showed up and said “I’m going to help you build this thing”, businesses who donated time, money, materials. We had support from everywhere,” Eijgenraam said.
Donations of cash, materials and volunteer hours totaled at least $35,000, he added. “That’s not counting all the work that was done before the construction. (Central Saanich) provided us with the water hookup (valued at $2,000), rezoning fee waiver, trail, property tax waiver, and $6,000 in start-up capital. He singled out municipal staff for their support in carrying out the project.
Windsor praised the gardens.
“I have seen with my own eyes the incredible community building taking place in the garden,” he said. “It’s a multi-generational gathering place where members share seeds, learn from each other and form friendships. Community gardens are about food security, yes, but so much more.
Eijgenraam said improving food safety was his main inspiration. “It’s almost ironic that in such an agricultural town and with such a rich agricultural history, there isn’t a community garden available for people who don’t have their garden bed.”
Central Saanich’s history and present as an agricultural center are well documented, but the community is changing, with increased density in Saanichton and Brentwood Bay, where increasing numbers of people live in buildings with little or no ability to garden.
Eijgenraam said COVID-19 revealed supply chain issues that could impact food availability in the future. Rising inflation also makes it difficult for people of modest means to access healthy food.
“Everyone involved in this project believes that everyone should have the opportunity 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 exchange knowledge, you are social, you learn. This is an added value of a community garden.
This not only benefits the members of the garden, but the community as a whole, as the society plans to offer workshops.
He’s also pondering what Eijgenraam called a second iteration of the facility. But that’s the future, and the company is focusing on financial health and self-sufficiency before considering expansion.
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