A partnership between a newly opened corner store and a community sharing garden in Blueridge has helped sprout a good cause.
For years, members of the Blueridge Community Sharing Garden, located across from Seymour Heights Elementary, between Carnation and Lytton streets, have donated surplus produce to a few local charities and non-profit organizations.
“We donate most of it to the Harvest Project, sometimes to the seniors centre at Parkgate, but also the Spectrum Mothers group as a way to give back to the community,” says Colleen Mah, garden co-founder.
Naturally, COVID-19 put a stop to that this growing season.
With organizations hitting the brakes on accepting food donations as a way to curb the spread of the virus, members of the garden decided to try their hand at growing a money tree for charity instead – and found the community was more than willing to help out.
The old Seymour Heights Store, located on Mount Seymour Parkway, minutes away from the sharing garden, had been vacant for ages until Christine and Joe Reid converted it into United Strangers, a coffee and corner store, earlier this year.
“It’s owned by a young couple, Christine and Joe, and they are super community minded,” notes Mah. “Before they even opened up they were reaching out to try and find ways we could potentially work together.”
In an effort to make sure the food the gardeners were growing was still filling bellies and making an impact, a partnership was struck up in July where once a week garden members would deliver their bounty to a pay-what-you can station set up at United Strangers.
“Because we couldn’t donate the produce but we still wanted to find a way to support all of these different charities, we asked them if we could potentially sell the produce there and just put a box down that said, ‘Whatever you want to pay,’” says Mah. “They could take it for a quarter or put in 20 bucks.”
Using that folksy, friendly method of commerce, the sharing garden’s Honesty Box at the corner store has brought in almost $500, according to Mah.
Now that the growing season is almost done, the group has finished its Honesty Box project and plans to donate the money to Harvest Project and Spectrum Mothers Support Society as a generous alternative to the food items they usually provided these organizations with.
Whether the gardening group was bringing in beans, carrots, beets, potatoes, or greens, Mah says they were always buoyed by the generosity exhibited by the community who would frequent United Strangers and buy their food items.
“The first day we had some carrots and some arugula, just random things we had put down there, and I came down later and it was something like $86 that people had left. They had just reached deep into their wallets,” she says.
The Blueridge Community Sharing Garden was founded in 2015 under the District of North Vancouver’s Adopt-a-Street Program with the help of Emily Carr University’s Cultivate Projects as well as a large number of local volunteer green thumbs.
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Back in 2015, former North Shore News gardening columnist Todd Major opined about the new sharing garden. “There are days when the gardening and landscaping industry seems singularly fixated on selling products instead of keeping the faith,” he wrote. “I find solace in hopeful new beginnings found in the hearts of people who make green contributions to society.”
While the amount that garden members raised for charity through their Honesty Box project was humble, the connections between community members – gardeners, a local corner store, and shop patrons – were what made all the difference.
“The timing really worked out for us with the opening of the store to let us try something we’d never done before,” says Mah, adding that the pandemic has forced people and organizations to adapt on the fly. “Basically people have to think a little bit more outside the box. And I also think people are very generous – they understand that these are hard times.”