North Vancouver Island communities join in to ‘squash the curve’

Residents from Cumberland , Tahsis and Quadra Island are volunteering to grow winter squash on their lawns in a move towards sustainable food security

Whoever imagined squashes would be at the epicentre of a revolution some day?

In a new approach to sustainable food security and a welcome distraction amidst all the COVID-19 noise, a silent revolution has begun in the yards of North Island.

Residents of Cumberland, Tahsis, Courtenay and Quadra Island have joined a local initiative to volunteer their gardens to grow winter squash after a duo, Sam Wice and Tamar Demirdjian, from The Burrow homestead in Comox put forth the plan on a forum on social media.

Once volunteers are identified, the person who runs the initiative will assess the site, dig an eight-inch hole and transfer the seeds that are already started indoors. The garden owner is left with the responsibility of watering and caring for it over the season.

“All of this is done in compliance with social distancing protocol,” said Wice, highlighting that the owners don’t even have to be present while they plant the seeds in their garden.

During harvest in October, the growers will receive a percentage of the crop and the rest of the squashes will be donated to community members and local food banks. With one seed being able to yield 4-6 squashes or more, a squash garden is easy to maintain and produces ample food for the community. While at the same time it is also nutritious and can be stored for a longer period.

Wice was rather surprised to learn that the squash growing model that they planned for their local community had become a rage on social media as members of other neighbouring communities were also duplicating the ‘Cumberland initiative’ in their areas.

It all started with surplus seeds that Wice and Demirdjian had with them and the thought of getting community members to help out with space to grow them. But as people started voicing interest, they also saw this as an opportunity to slowly ease inexperienced gardeners into growing food in thier own yards.

“It’s about bringing back skills that we lost after 1950 when people would grow their own food,” said Wice, adding, “we need these sustainable and self reliant methods even more now.”

Wice also acknowledges that planting winter squash is not going to solve bigger problems of food sufficiency immediately, but it’s more about sowing a thought process and cultivating a habit.

“It’s a baby step to get the ball rolling in people’s head that this is not rocket science,” she said.

While the initiative is taking on many creative names such as ‘project squash’ in Tahsis and ‘squash the curve’ on Qadra Island, the primary goal of the project is a sustainable homegrown attempt at food security. But in a lot of different ways it also fosters a sense of community. In Cumberland, within 24 hours, over 16 local residents who had space to spare in their gardens came forward to participate and grow the vegetables. Tahsis had around eight households that signed up instantly.

Cheryl O Donnell and Silvie Keen from Tahsis, who are also members of the Tahsis Community Garden Society, learnt about this initiative on social media and were quick to jump on it and advocate it to people in thier own community.

“I happen to be a seed hoarder and I already finished planting 90 seeds which will be ready to transfer into gardens soon,” said O’Donnell. While such projects are good for mental health, she also pointed out that projects like these could benefit smaller places like Tahsis which are “far away” where residents have to go to Campbell River to get their grocery runs often. “ When communities grow their own food, you don’t have to travel far and it saves you a lot of money too,” said O’Donnell.

While social media accelerated the whole initiative, it also gives a nurturing space for community learning. People have stepped up not just as garden volunteers but also as benefactors who provide soil, seeds or even financial help.

With social media even novices can learn to grow their own food, says O’ Donnell, “You can monitor the process and expert gardeners in the group can give suggestions when people post updates.”

ALSO READ : Food security initiative ecourages Sooke residents to grow food at home

ALSO READ: COVID-19 threatens food security of low-income Canadians

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