Square-foot gardens helping former shelter residents feed the 'soul' - InfoNews

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Square-foot gardens helping former shelter residents feed the 'soul'

Blair Apartments resident Jeff Goodwin water his recently created 'square foot' garden.
June 03, 2019 - 6:00 AM


VERNON - It's clear Jeff Goodwin is immensely proud of his garden. He's growing four types of tomatoes, onions, chives, red cabbage, spinach and more - and he's doing it all in a four-foot square garden, tucked away in downtown Vernon.

"They say gardening is good for the soul and the truth is I love it," Goodwin said.

A resident of the Blair Apartments, a low-cost housing project run by Turning Points Collaborative Society, Goodwin has embraced the apartment block's new Square Foot Garden with zeal.

He views the garden and what it does for him as another positive step in his path through life. Before moving into the apartment in October 2016, Goodwin lived in various shelters around Vernon and said he had "issues" in his previous life, including a history of substance abuse.

"I got myself together," he said. "It took a lot of hard work."

Goodwin said the Blair Apartments were a "godsend" for him, now "the garden is just an extra bonus."

Turning Points staff Erin Rivard and Shelley Kiefiuk with Jeff Goodwin.
Turning Points staff Erin Rivard and Shelley Kiefiuk with Jeff Goodwin.

The method of square foot gardening was developed in 1972, where plots are all four-foot square, and then divided up into 16 squares within the plot. The idea is to simplify gardening and create manageable gardens that are not overwhelming.

The idea to introduce the scheme to the Blair Apartments came from Briteland home and garden store owner Dave Weatherill.

"I just thought the square foot gardening program would be really well suited to their situation," Weatherill said.

And one month after its inception it has been embraced by many of the residents.

The square foot gardens
The square foot gardens

Turning Points staffer Erin Rivard said the apartment block did have a garden previously but the large space proved difficult to manage and ultimately no one took responsibility. Dividing the space into 18 plots and giving residents ownership of their own individual garden has turned things around.

With the majority of the building's 40 residents moving to the apartments from living in homeless shelters and out of substance abuse rehabilitation, the ability to garden means much more than simply growing vegetables and having pretty flowers.

"[The garden] is another form of responsibility. You have to take care of everything otherwise everything dies," Rivard said. "Having your own little plot is another part of learning and growing, it's another life skill."

And Goodwin agrees.

"It's less overwhelming," he said. "It feels very easy to manage."

The project also requires flowers to be planted.
The project also requires flowers to be planted.

The garden is designed to grow small amounts of plants or veggies creating a wide variety of plants and so once one crop is ready to be picked, another can be planted. As flowers and vegetables don't all come into season at the same time there's always something to do.

Weatherill said to follow the original ethos of square foot gardening, flowers must also be planted.

"The reason is flowers are beautiful and flowers enhance the beauty in our lives and its good for the soul," he said.

So what does Goodwin like so much about getting his hands dirty in the garden?

"Something about it coming out of the earth, and you're running in with your fresh vegetables and making a salad... it feels good."

He says it reminds him of great childhood memories, of his grandparents' orchard and picking tomatoes from the vine.

"I just love it... they're like me, they're growing."

Along with the gardens, the apartments have also introduced a composter, so residents can compost household organic waste to be used on the garden, and a rainwater collection tank has been set up to provide water for the garden.

While watering his plot may only take a few minutes, Goodwin said in the cool of the evening once he's finished watering he may just sit down and watch the flowers and veggies growing, and just sit and stare.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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