An annual charity campaign in London, Ont., is asking residents to stick out their green thumbs in hopes of delivering fresh produce to those in need.
The 25th edition of the London Cares Curb Hunger Food Drive kicked off on Wednesday with a launch event that focused on new ways Londoners can grow their own donations.
In partnership with the Business Cares Food Drive, the food bank is now offering green walls, a 30 cm x 102 cm vertical garden that allows for growth in tight spaces.
“You don’t have to buy them, you can basically just sign up and register and we’ll get you a green wall,” said Jane Roy, the co-executive director of the London Food Bank.
“Right now, we only have 50, but there’s 500 coming, so if you can register that’s great and then we’ll figure out a way to get you.”
Groups can sign up for a larger 100 cm x 100 cm green wall that also comes free of charge, thanks to funding from Business Cares.
There’s also the pre-existing Plant a Row, Grow a Row program, which asks Londoners with gardens to plant an extra row of crops for the food bank.
Roy said the gardening initiatives aim to increase the food bank’s supply of fresh food for clients while also promoting urban farming in London.
“This is the freshest food that we actually have, so the food gets harvested … it goes immediately to folks. When you talk about freshness, that’s within the space of five minutes,” Roy added.
Business Cares is also providing funding for greenhouses, which the food bank will then set up for larger community groups that are interested. These groups are tasked with tending to the garden and donating the harvest back to the food bank.
West London church plants interfaith garden for the food bank
St. Aidan’s Anglican Church has already taken up the food bank on its offer with a trio of greenhouses set up on its west London property.
Canon Kevin George says he was approached by the food bank in May about the initiative and felt it was “right in the wheelhouse of where we want to be.”
One of the three greenhouses is named Abraham’s Tent, a term often used to refer to communities belonging to Abrahamic faiths.
“It will be tended and cared for throughout the year by people from Temple Israel of London, from the London Muslim Mosque and from St. Aidan’s community, as well as a couple of other Christian communities up in the northwest of London who’ve also agreed to help,” George said.
“It imparts a powerful message in terms of being able to work together as various interfaith groups,” said Imam Abd Alfatah Twakkal of the London Muslim Mosque.
Twakkal says the message is even more important given last week’s vehicle attack in northwest London. Four members of a Muslim family died and a nine-year-old boy was left seriously injured following what police have deemed a hate crime that targeted the victims because of their faith.
“The only way we’re going to be able to overcome the various forms of hatred and discrimination is together,” Twakkal said.
Twakkal and George added that Rabbi Debra Dressler was another essential component in bringing Abraham’s Tent together.
During a trip to Cuba a few years ago, Canon Greg Smith observed a number of churches engaged in urban agriculture and teaching people how to grow their own food.
“It was just so inspiring. I’ve been waiting to see something like that here in the city,” said Smith.
“This is what we need to be doing more and more. There is a lot of property available (at St. Aidan’s) and it should be put to use.”
Smith said they are starting with “simple things” to grow, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and a few squash plants.
Patrick Ferguson, the parish nurse at St. Aidan’s, said he’s amazed at how quickly the plants have sprouted in the greenhouses.
“Trying to deal with the critters that live around here is going to be a challenge as things go on, but I think we’ll be able to certainly get some produce off here to be able to give to the neighbourhood,” Ferguson said.
“I’ve been told that we can grow some other more hearty crops, like some spinach and some peas, in the fall … hopefully, we’ll be able to grow almost year-round.”
The London Cares Curb Hunger Food Drive runs from June 16 to June 26 and there other ways to help out that don’t involve gardening.
Food donations can be dropped off at participating grocery stores or at the London Food Bank’s headquarters on Leathorne Street and money can also be donated online at londonfoodbank.ca.
More information on the food drive, as well as a link to register for green walls, can be found on the food bank’s website.