Local Produce + Life Skills = Win-Win For All

Credit: Kristi Dobson
Kat Belisle is the new and friendly face at Healthy Harvest Farm on Beaver Creek Road.
Kristi Dobson

The Healthy Harvest Farm has been well up and running this month, offering sales of fresh vegetables during the week and volunteer opportunities for work experience. The initiative has been a project of the Canadian Mental Health Association for the past eight years and is a win-win situation for partners and the community. It is one more means of supporting the ten-mile diet and helping people gain valuable life skills.

This year the garden has once again experienced an expansion in garden space, more than tripling its production area. That means more variety of local, organic vegetables for the public and more income generated locally. Coordinators Anna Lewis and Kat Belisle and volunteer Charles Thomas have been on the grounds since mid-February.

“We’re now planning on planting for winter crops and expect to be able to start sales earlier in the Spring and go later into the year,” Anna said. “We can also diversify the crops.”

Kat is a new face to the farm this year and brings a wealth of knowledge. Along with working part-time with Healthy Harvest, she owns Stellar Jay Farm. She came to Port Alberni specifically for the affordable living and land.

“I was a part of the Saanich Organics farm coop for about ten years,” she said. “I couldn’t afford any land there, so I saved my pennies and found Port Alberni where it is beautiful and affordable.”

Community partnerships have also strengthened this year. The small team is working with the Hupacasath First Nation, Huu-ay-aht First Nation, INEO Training and Employment and Alberni District Secondary School for land sharing and work experience.

“We are leasing land from the Hupacasath First Nation,” Kat said. “We are farming next to each other and share a greenhouse, so it is nice to work together in that way,” she said.

The farm relies on its volunteers to help with production. With an average of thirty helping hands last year, the main source of help has come from clients who live with mental illness. By having hands-on experience digging in the dirt, tending crops and learning how the products grow, they are gaining an appreciation for where food comes from and how to use it in the kitchen.

“I often hear from people asking how they can volunteer,” Anna said. “So there could be a possibility of trying a farmers’ market on Saturday or the Sunset Markets on Wednesdays if we have an abundance of produce and some volunteers to run it.”

Produce can either be purchased on site at the farm gate on Beaver Creek Road across from the Alberni District Co-Op Monday to Thursday from 9am to 1pm or through the box program. To find out what is available each week, join the mailing list by emailing healthy.harvest@cmha.bc.ca.