YOU can see it in their eyes: an intense focus determined to build community and create something sustainable.
This was no policy meeting; it was boots-on-the-ground working to change the world one wheelbarrow of compost at a time. The sun was shinning and there was chatter in the air while I watched the volunteers working to grow a healthier future during my recent visit to Loutet Farm.
Loutet Farm is a project of the North Shore Neighbourhood House, the City of North Vancouver and the University of British Columbia. The project is partially funded by Vancity, Concert Properties, Vancouver Coastal Health, Neptune Terminals, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Wesgroup Properties, Metro Vancouver, Great Canadian Landscaping Co., the Fulbright Canada Eco-leadership Program, Rainbird and Active Turf Irrigation.
I was surprised by the diversity of people in attendance during the recent Loutet Farm workbee, each with their own reason for volunteering but all of them committed to the farm's purpose. I walked up to Irma, who gave no last name, to ask her how long she had been volunteering.
"I've been here about 20 minutes," she said as she continued to spread compost on the planting bed. "Why are you here?" I asked. Irma said, "I retired about a month ago and wanted to give back to my community and stay active." Irma, like many of the volunteers, had more than one reason for working on the farm.
As I walked back to the middle of the farm I noticed two young boys struggling with a heavy wheelbarrow of manure and just before they made it to their destination the barrow tipped over and dumped its load, followed by smiles and laughter. As they picked up their bounty and reloaded the barrow a young lady came over and said, "Try to put a little less in the wheelbarrow and you won't have so much trouble next time." The young lady was Kristen Hydes. She was working on the farm with students from Bodwell International High School.
Hydes is the volunteer coordinator and counsellor for the school and she brought students to Loutet to earn volunteer credit for their courses at school. I asked Hydes if volunteering was normal for her students. She said, "Volunteering is fairly common in Canada but in other parts of the world where these students come from, volunteering is not common." Hydes was confident and relaxed as she provided guidance while shepherding her students.
Down another row of veggies was a young lady who was diligently weeding the bed. I wandered over and asked her why she was volunteering. She leaned up, beamed a smile and said, "I like meeting people. I enjoy working with the soil and plants. And I enjoy the
sense of community we are building." Her name is Carilyn and she grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. She went on to explain her main reason for coming out to farm, "It's in your heart" she said with a smile and conviction of purpose. She was one of the brightest flowers I met that day.
I continued my wander around and headed to the back of the farm where a group of hard-working volunteers were loading compost and manure into wheelbarrows.
I approached a young man named Devon and asked him why he was volunteering. "I want to create a better world and governments are not listening. So we'll have to change the system ourselves.
With all the pesticides and mismanagement in agriculture people have to change the system from the bottom up," he said.
Then there was Mark who explained that, "Volunteering at Loutet comes with no real guilt, people can volunteer a little or a lot." He went on to say, "It's important for young people to get involved in these projects to help them understand how their food is grown and how to build their community."
As I watched everyone participating around the farm I noticed a slender young lady in coveralls vigilantly tending to volunteers, offering advice, providing direction and inspiration to everyone.
She seemed tireless. Like a bee on a mission she never stopped and moved with purpose. She is one of the unsung heroes of the local food security movement.
She is Emily Jubenvill, the community coordinator for the Edible Garden Project (ediblegardenproject.com). Jubenvill made a strong impression on me in the short time we talked. She had this positive aura about her as she spoke with confidence, passion and commitment. After only four years with the Edible Garden Project, she speaks with wisdom beyond her years.
In the end, it's people who grow the community and if the volunteers at the Loutet Farm are any indication of my hope for the future, we have good hands growing us.
Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist and chief horticulture instructor at UBC Botanical Garden. For advice, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org