Bee Greens’ Hamsa Eliza (left) and Shauna Fidler are members of the West Kootenay Permaculture Co-op, which is distributing seeds to homes across the Kootenays. Photo submitted

Kootenay program encourages gardeners to share what they grow during pandemic

The West Kootenay Permaculture Co-op is sending out free seeds, but with a catch

Shauna Fidler hopes the seeds she sends out now keep the Kootenays fed during the global pandemic.

Carrots, kale, corn and other vegetable seeds are set to be planted across the Kootenays as part of a West Kootenay Permaculture Co-op program to encourage food security ahead of potential shortages due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Fidler, the co-op’s chair, said they had to close requests Monday morning after 400 homes signed up for the packages of free seeds. The co-op had initially been aiming for 200-to-300 participants.

“We’re seeing a whole bunch of people who have never gardened before responding and saying, ‘I’ve never done this but now’s the time,’” said Fidler.

“A lot of people who said, ‘I’ve had a huge garden my whole life, I’ve been scaling back but this is not the year to scale back, let’s grow more food together.’ So it’s pretty inspiring that people are also thinking hey, we better get serious here. We have a climate that’s really conducive to growing good food in and I think every little space in everybody’s yard should be full of food this year.”

Related: Nelson and COVID-19: everything you need to know

Each home receives packages of seeds, which can include carrots, kale, beets, arugula, mustard greens, squash, corn, spinach, radishes and beans. Fidler said the co-op focused on vegetables with high calorie content that are easy to grow and can also be canned, dehydrated and stored.

There’s just one catch — growers are encouraged to share from the bounty.

Fidler said every home that agrees to receive seeds is asked to commit a row of food for the community. There’s no singular organization that must receive the food — it can go to friends and family or back to the co-op for redistribution — but Fidler said the act of sharing will help protect the region from the possibility of future shortages.

“Whether the situation is actual food scarcity or it’s just the economy factor of food scarcity, I think we all are going to have to be feeding our friends and neighbours and family.”

Uncertainty over food supplies has settled in B.C. since the outbreak began.

Panic buying has spread in grocery stores, and a growing black market led to public safety minister Mike Farnworth banning the resale of food along with medical supplies last week. The province has also committed $3 million in funding for food banks, which are experiencing a drop in donations.

But some grocery store managers have also downplayed the strain on supply chains and provincial egg and chicken producers say it is business as usual.

Fidler said she believes food will be harder to come by in the Kootenays if the pandemic continues throughout the year.

“This region, we’re not very food secure,” she said. “As much as we have a lot of great farmers and a lot of people who grow their own food, we’re still buying most of our food from afar.”

Fidler said the co-op typically holds workshops for 20 to 30 people, who make and take home items like jam and pickles. But with gathering bans in place and those programs on hold, Fidler said the co-op is focusing on new methods of encouraging food security.

That includes a gift of seeds, which she hopes spreads to those who need it most.

“We felt the most important thing right now is people are growing as much food as they can.”

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