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New community garden off to great start in Parksville

Volunteers plan to build greenhouse in space next to McMillan Arts Centre
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The community garden beside the MAC in Parksville is off to a good start after its first summer. (Kevin Forsyth photo)

A new Parksville community garden is off to a great start and volunteers are looking forward to expanding the project.

The garden, located right next to the McMillan Arts Centre (MAC), began as a partnership between the arts centre and the PQB Fruit Tree Project and this summer saw a bumper crop, thanks to the hard work of volunteers and a grant from the Agriculture Canada Local Food and Infrastructure Fund.

Dan Larocque has spearheaded the initiative and said increasing local food production is more important than ever.

“We’re on an island here, we’ve been addicted to cheap food for 50 years,” he said. “We’re subject to different constraints with our supply chain, we have to start growing more food for ourselves. That food independence is really important.”

LaRocque and volunteers broke ground back in late March and planted as much as they could.

The project came about when LaRocque and MAC executive director Jennifer Bate, who play in a rock and roll band called the Apollos, were looking for a venue to host a new community garden.

He’s been involved with the PQB Fruit Tree Project for a decade.

“It was inspired by just the amount of food that ends up on the ground every summer,” LaRocque said.

“Feeding wasps and bears and just rotting, while we’re paying two to three dollars a pound for apples.”

The garden is watered by hydroponics and has produced tomatoes, kale, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce and strawberries, to name a few.

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The MAC ran children’s art programs and art therapy programs over the summer, and Inclusion Parksville also ran adult programming in the space.

Bate said an upright piano was donated and will sit in the garden during summer months, which will encourage more people to come enjoy the garden, listen to music, paint or read a book.

Plans are also underway to offer courses in hydroponic and raised garden growing, fruit preserves making, drying fruit and vegetables.

The next step is a 16 x 20-feet greenhouse, which could begin construction as early as December, LaRocque said.

For now, a temporary 12-foot diameter dome is doing the trick.

The garden is not large enough to rent space to people, but LaRocque and volunteers were able to give away lots of fresh produce on-site to people who stopped by to have a look.

LaRocque said hydroponics are not difficult to learn and does not require a lot of money either.

“I love it. It’s a like a science project for me and it’s really productive, it can be really productive,” he said.

“It gets a lot of attention. People love to look at it and talk about it. So it’s been great to have that conversation about how to grow food.”

The MAC and the community garden are located at 133 McMillan St. More information about the garden and the PQB Fruit Project is available at pqbfruit.org.