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Harbour Grace food bank turns to growing its own veggies

Grant Koehler, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank in Harbour Grace, is pleased his organization can offer clients fresh vegetables grown in its new greenhouse.
Grant Koehler, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank in Harbour Grace, is pleased his organization can offer clients fresh vegetables grown in its new greenhouse. - Andrew Robinson

With support from a grant, St. Vincent de Paul group can provide clients with fresh food

The new greenhouse was purchased from Sun Valley Greenhouses in St. John’s.
The new greenhouse was purchased from Sun Valley Greenhouses in St. John’s.

HARBOUR GRACE, N.L.

He may have gotten to a late start with planting this past growing season, but Grant Koehler of Harbour Grace hopes the new greenhouse alongside St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church will be a big help in alleviating hunger.

The local St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank, of which Koehler is president, obtained a $5,000 grant earlier this year from Food Banks Canada to set up the greenhouse.

Koehler told The Compass he noticed a post on social media about the group’s Fresh Gardens and Growing Fund and decided it was something the local food bank should apply for. The fund is specifically dedicated to food banks and people living in food-insecure households.

“Most food banks in this day and age right across Canada simply can not afford fresh vegetables and fruit,” Koehler told The Compass during a recent visit to the greenhouse. “Our money is more directed to the mainstays for the household — cereal, meats, bread, and the normal things you would have in your cupboards.”

In the past year, the food bank supported 165 families in Harbour Grace and Bryant’s Cove, within which there are approximately 100 children.

Mid-July start

Hot peppers grow inside the Harbour Grace food bank’s new greenhouse.
Hot peppers grow inside the Harbour Grace food bank’s new greenhouse.

The greenhouse was not ready for volunteers to get started in until mid-July, so the harvest this year has been limited. So far, though, they have provided clients with tomatoes and cucumbers. They’re also growing potatoes in raised beds outside the greenhouse. Koehler notes this vegetable is particularly popular amongst Newfoundlanders.

“We’ll have this forever and ever, please God, and we will continue to grow in it,” he said of the greenhouse.

The greenhouse cost just under $3,500 to build. The St. Vincent de Paul also spent money to build a small gravel road leading to the structure and purchased soil, plants and the boxes to use as raised beds. The latter items were purchased with a separate grant of $1,200 from the provincial government.

In addition to supplying food for the local food bank, the greenhouse project is receiving support from youth involved with the church. Koehler considers this to be a very important aspect, as most food bank volunteers are senior citizens.

“Fortunately, we have enough people that we can continue,” he said. “Life expectancy is whatever it is, and you’re not going to get any younger — you’re getting older. And when we go, we need somebody to replace us. So, the idea was to instill some type of value in the young people so that they understand why we’re doing this, what they’re doing it for, and they’re helping their neighbour. If we can instill that in them at an early age, perhaps they will look after things when we’re not there.”

Raised beds for potatoes and green onions were set up alongside the greenhouse.
Raised beds for potatoes and green onions were set up alongside the greenhouse.

Visibility

It also does not hurt that the greenhouse is on the St. Joseph’s property, keeping it in full view of church parishioners every week to serve as a visual reminder of the food bank’s ever-present need for help.

He would like to eventually introduce more raised beds to the garden, but Koehler is conscious of the need to not overextend his volunteer base.

“This here is a big step to start with, to come on the church property to put something there,” he said. “But . . . the thing with expanding is you need someone to look after it.”

While St. Vincent de Paul is a leg of the local Immaculate Conception Parish, that has no bearing on its dedication to serving everyone in the area, regardless of religious beliefs.

That extends to the volunteers behind the scenes at the food bank (the president and vice-president of the group must be Catholic, but the remainder of the executive positions can be held by anyone).

“We give to anybody,” Koehler emphasized.

editor@cbncompass.ca

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