By Steve Hubrecht 

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A group of green-thumbed grade schoolers have convinced the District of Invermere to grow vegetables in some of its flower beds.

The students are the J. Alfred Laird Gardening Ambassadors from J.A. Laird Elementary School, and they made the case for switching a few of the municipal flower gardens to vegetable gardens during last week’s (March 12) council meeting. There were nine or 10 Gardening Ambassadors in total, but they brought with them a crowd of parents, siblings, friends and the school principal — enough supporters to literally pack the gallery at council chambers to standing room only. (Sure, council chambers are not exactly spacious, but just the same, issues attracting an audience that large are few and far between.)

The Laird Gardening Ambassadors comprises students from a number of different classes and grades. For the past three years they have been growing vegetables in the community gardens at Mount Nelson Athletic Park (MNAP), donating 1,000 pounds of veggies to the Columbia Valley Food Bank and using the rest to help feed students at their own school. They learn not only gardening but also about food sustainability, and they came to the March 12 council meeting with a plan.

“We are here today to ask the Invermere town council to begin thinking differently about how we use the many (municipal) flower beds and planter pots located around town,” Ambassador Sofia told council.

Fellow Ambassador Amelia explained that the flower beds are beautiful, but could be used for better purposes, namely growing vegetables for local residents who cannot afford fresh, healthy food. She noted the amount of municipal water used to grow vegetables would be no different than the amount of water currently used to grow flowers.

“There is a need for fresh food in our valley,” said Ambassador Ellie. She reeled off a list of statistics: at least 17 per cent of local families cannot afford the groceries they need; the Food Bank distributed 1,422 hampers of food to local families in 2022; and 258 Invermere residents do not have enough access to nutritional food. Ellie noted that this food security situation is compounded by a water shortage, with current snowpack only at 40 per cent of its typical average, so “we need to start using water more wisely.”

Converting flower beds to vegetable gardens, or combining flowers and vegetables in the same beds (also known as companion planting) would mean “our water resources are being used more purposefully” added Ambassador Mali.

Ambassadors Sarah and Ayla listed several examples of other municipalities that grow vegetables in municipal gardens and flower beds. These include Southbank, Australia, and — here in B.C. — East Vancouver, West Vancouver, and Victoria.

The Gardening Ambassadors offered to pitch in to help council and district staff turn these ideas into reality.

“We can get seeds from the seed library. We can help plant, weed and harvest vegetables for the community beds,” outlined Ambassador Kinley. “We can research vegetables and edible flowers that are less likely to attract animals. For example, deer are less likely to eat root vegetables like carrots and beets, but their greenery is an attractive addition to a garden bed. We can create signage.”

Ambassador Mia added that “we are willing to work with you” and she suggested that “perhaps we could start with one garden space as a test project.”

“You’ve made some very good points,” Invermere deputy mayor Kayja Becker told the students.

Invermere chief administrative officer Andrew Young explained that he and Invermere Mayor Al Miller had previously talked about installing garden beds near the district office, as a benefit both for food security and for district staff who might find tending the garden “a nice, soothing break.” The students’ proposal is even better, added Young.

Several Invermere councillors began discussing which particular flower bed or two might be best to start with as a test project. One of the Gardening Ambassadors piped up, suggesting that the ones under the flag poles near the Windermere Valley Museum would be great. Miller agreed this is an excellent spot, noting the nearby Summit Youth Centre plans to create its own raised bed gardens, and that there could be some coordination between the two projects.

“I think we’re all on the same page,” said Becker. She pointed out that local government often moves very slowly on initiatives, but said “let’s get this rolling as fast as we can. Maybe even this spring.”

Council unanimously voted to give direction to district staff to meet with the Gardening Ambassadors in the near future to sort out details.