All Lynda Bryan wanted was a small garden for her family. In the end, it took the help of a city councillor, staff at Katrine Conroy’s MLA office, managers at BC Housing, the Community Harvest Food Bank and a whole lot of others in the Castlegar area giving of themselves to make it happen.
Bryan lives with her two boys, Derek (7) and Daniel (4) at Riverview Court at the northwest end of Castlegar. The property, a BC Housing development, has a large green space but no food gardens.
“I like to feed the kids organic food,” said Bryan. She acknowledged doing so can be tricky on a tight budget. Having a small garden would give the family food budget a little breathing room.
Her father, who lives in Grand Forks, thought he could help by providing her with a planter, about a metre square, so she could grow a few vegetables on the ground-level, concrete patio at the back of her unit. Bryan said within a week of having it out, she was told by the property manager it was not allowed.
Contacted for comment on June 28 by telephone, manager Elaine Truscott said she “didn’t know anything about it” and that rules and regulations come out of Penticton, where the BC Housing head office is located.
The BC Housing rules, outlined in the tenancy agreement as well as a “tenant handbook” for those living in public housing developments, has information with respect to balconies: “If your unit has a balcony, it must not be used for storage.”
What is considered storage is part of the concern but it’s also easy to understand that having no rules could see the rental properties descending into an unsightly mess. In addition, there are valid concerns over drainage, safety and upkeep.
According to the BC Housing website (www.bchousing.org) more than 97,000 households in 200 communities throughout B.C. were assisted through subsidized housing in 2012. Clearly, managing the properties takes a unified approach.
On June 20, Bryan approached City of Castlegar councillor, Deb McIntosh, who is well known for tackling issues of all sorts. McIntosh agreed with Bryan that having the option to grow a small garden is something the tenants of Riverview Court deserved.
McIntosh contacted Elaine Whitehead at the office of MLA Katrine Conroy to get the ball rolling and from there went directly to Georgiana Marin, portfolio manager at BC Housing.
From there, things progressed quickly.
Marin was unavailable for comment by press deadline but a statement from a BC Housing spokesperson said the B.C. government is committed to programs that improve the health and well-being of individuals living in subsidized housing.
The statement also indicated BC Housing provides free bedding plants and fertilizer each spring, as well as workshops to help tenants learn to grow their gardens.
“We have committed to providing funding for the seeds and soil for Riverview Court’s People, Plants and Homes initiative and look forward to seeing the positive impact that this new program will have on the residents.”
As far as the property manager not being aware of the situation, McIntosh seemed unconcerned about it.
“I have letters of okay from her bosses,” she said.
BC Housing also noted the “People, Plants and Homes” program had been working since 1977 to encourage tenants to beautify their homes with flowers and grow fresh produce for themselves.
From there, McIntosh’s next stop was carpenter Peter Wulowka, owner of Raccoon Carpentry in Castlegar. Wulowka agreed to take on the task of building the raised planter boxes. The boxes are lined with landscape paper and treated with linseed oil for a natural finish. Wulowka said the pricing for the boxes is $175 completely built, $145 with no finish and $100 provided as a do-it-yourself kit.
McIntosh’s collaborative approach to problem solving also meant two men who make use of the food bank services earned some money by helping to deliver soil to fill each box.
The soil was provided by Castlegar company Trowelex.
The following individuals and organizations also contributed to filling the boxes with donations of plants: Barb Evans, Moe Sauer, Pam Johnston Nursery, Melissa Cline, Willow Enewold, Julie Walters and Bruce McIntosh.
Monetary donations came from Steve Graham Ent. ($100), Nona Verigin-Kutcher ($100) and Gord Lamont Reno’s and Repairs ($100).
McIntosh also helps run the Community Harvest Food Bank, so receiving support from that organization to co-ordinate this effort and provide financial help for this enterprise was an easy sell. Tenants have the option of ordering a box or not and so far, six have been delivered and another three are under construction.
Monetary donations to the Food Bank to help offset some of the costs are always appreciated, said McIntosh.
Once the boxes were laden with soil and seeds carefully planted, Bryan’s sons were fascinated to watch the worms working hard in the soil. Boys, after all, will be boys.
“We have spinach and lettuce planted right now,” said Bryan. Each tenant is allowed to have two of the boxes but no one has taken that option as yet.
Tomatoes, squash, peppers, zucchini, onions and other seeds will also be the planting list in the months ahead.
“We hope to be able to do a community garden next year,” said Bryan. “It’s up to the tenants to decide what they want. We are just so grateful for all of the support from the community.”