Volunteering to harvest food at the greenhouse

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles that’s focused on making use of the features from a natural ecosystem.

It’s 34 C degrees and I’m waiting at the Community Greenhouse for Rob and Michelle Avis of Verge Permaculture to see what the Thursday Volunteer Nights at the Groundswell Network’s Community Greenhouse this July have in stock. Each week, Rob and Michelle are leading this event, which gives volunteers the opportunity to get their hands dirty, help out and learn about maintaining the Groundswell Permaculture Garden.

Rob appears from the far end of the garden, wearing a hat like Crocodile Dundee and dark sunglasses. He pulls the sunglasses down his nose and says, “Hello.”

I introduced myself and gave the couple a full disclosure about where I work, and my plans to write about the experience in a column.

“Sounds good,” Rob replied. “Make sure you let people know that we could always use more plant donations — whatever people have to fill up the garden would be great.”

I smiled and nodded in agreement, looking around the garden as two other women emerged.

With a small entourage interested in learning about permaculture, Rob began to walk slowly along the gravel pathway into the depths of the garden.

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles that’s focused on making use of the features from a natural ecosystem. The Groundswell Network has used the Columbia Valley wetlands as a model for what the Community Greenhouse should look like.

Typically, the wetlands have distinct characteristics that are built around water and have a unique grouping of plants that return with every season — I came to learn from Rob and Michelle that this sometimes meant perennials.

Rob added that annual plants weren’t necessarily bad for the environment, but could complicate the Earth’s food security if producers focus solely on growing crops that need to be re-planted with every season.

He emphasized the importance of combining both annual and perennial crops for harvest to make food more accessible throughout the world.

“Most people grew up thinking that they don’t like gardening because they had to weed one when they were growing up, but we don’t do that at all,” Rob says. “We plant something in every corner of our garden so that the sun doesn’t create a vacuum for weeds to grow and look around us. This will be a resource for food that will eventually be totally self-sustaining.”

After the tour, Rob and Michelle asked us to take bags to collect produce from the garden including calendula, sand cherries, red currants, raspberries and sea buckthorn.

At the end of the evening, we divided up the bags of food between us and I had four bags of produce to take home with an abundance of new knowledge to think about.

Michelle even showed me how cutting down certain plants and laying them flat across the ground could speed up the process of creating healthy soil for the garden. There was also biodegradable burlap sacks being used the same way.

At the end of the night, I waved goodbye to everyone and Michelle replied, “You’ll be back.”

For more information about Volunteer Nights, visit groundswellnetwork.ca or call 250-342-3337.