Wednesday April 13, 2022 | COLWOOD, BC
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc, Editor | Island Social Trends
In rows of composted soil, today vegetable starter plants were introduced into the fresh Kitchen Garden area on the old Dunsmuir grounds at Royal Roads University (RRU).
Surrounded by a stone wall with black metal gates under the view of the old Dunsmuir mansion, several acres of land will be changed from lawn to garden.
Moisture is not a problem — there’s an area where a pond easily develops and there are underground springs, but in time the project will see drop-irrigation to make sure veggies grow nicely throughout the extended growing season that is a gardener’s delight on south Vancouver Island. The growing rows are surrounded by mulch, to help keep soil and moisture in place.
Today RRU hosted a press conference as part of proudly launching their new food production garden.
The project area will provide fresh-grown food to food banks and other organizations in the local community as well as the cafeteria services on campus. It will be a teaching garden with an outdoor classroom, and also a learning garden as to knowing more about Indigenous ways of relating to and working with the land. A root cellar is part of the project mix.
All of it within the four walls of the stately landscaped area that once served as the kitchen garden for the original Dunsmuir homesteaders about 100 years ago.
“It’s just wonderful for you to be able to join us in these beautiful gardens of ours,” said RRU President and Vice-Chancellor Dr Philip Steenkamp.
Rain held off, but the air was damp amidst the forested seaside campus area on this cold day (about 8°C mid-morning, which is a bit unseasonably cool for the Greater Victoria area in mid-April).
The lands for the RRU Kitchen Garden were blessed by local Indigenous elders (Xwsepsum and Lekwungen) a few days ago. “So we start with very good intentions,” said Steenkamp.
The surrounding nations and their members continue to share stories about harvesting from the lands and waters, notes Asma-na-hi Antoine, RRU Director of Indigenous Engagement.
Launching the committee:
The launch of the new kitchen gardens was prefaced by Dr Steenkamp thanking Dr Hilary Leighton (Royal Roads associate professor and program head in RRU’s School of Environment and Sustainability) for her “vision and energy” toward getting the kitchen garden project launched.
Leighton was not at today’s event, but Steenkamp mentioned how they both toured the gardens a few years ago with an eye for new potential.
Steenkamp has been president since January 2019 and right from the outset he intended for there to be food grown on campus. He chaired the original food garden committee, and since Fall 2021 there have been two co-chairs: Leighton together with Susan Gee, Vice-President, Communications & Advancement. That’s a good combination of faculty and administration, says Steenkamp.
The first garden harvest is expected mid-September. The first new planting site — named the Giving Garden — is being created using a no-dig sheet mulch to support a first-year planting of hardy edible crops including squash, collard greens, tomatoes, potatoes, edible flowers and garlic.
Solara Goldwynn is food systems manager of the RRU kitchen garden. She and President Steenkamp got their hands into the dirt. Today’s media event featured the two of them planting of sturdy broccoli and cauliflower plants that might better endure these atypical cold days of mid-April.
During the summer the apiary will be expanded, to provide critical support and protection for bees which are invaluable plant pollinators.
A pollinator bed planted with native plant species (such as goldenrod, yarrow, and blue-eyed grass) was part of the nicely prepared garden area on display today.
Importance of food:
At the kitchen garden site for today’s announcement, Steenkamp noted how healthy fresh food is also about “hope and the future, and it also builds on the legacy of the past”. These gardens are on the lands of people who lived here for thousands of years.
“We’re very committed to learning about those Indigenous ways of being on the land. These were very important lands for Indigenous peoples,” he noted. A lot of food was harvested in this location, and in the ocean lagoon where there were clam beds. “It is our hope that this revitalized kitchen garden can honour the stories of the Lekwungen and Xwsepsum.”
Realizing the importance of food and its availability has been heightened since 2020 for individuals, families and the broader society during the pandemic. Overlaid onto that are the evident impacts of climate change and the war upon Ukraine, all of which is impacting food security globally, Dr Steenkamp told Island Social Trends today.
Community in times of crisis:
Growing food as a community prompts the question about why now for ramping up the food-growing vision at RRU.
“With the pandemic, people have come to realize more and more the importance of community, of collectively taking action to support and protect each other at times of peril,” said Steenkamp when Island Social Trends asked about his observations and conclusions about the last two or more years of pandemic that has gripped local communities and the world.
“A pandemic presents that, climate change presents that, war as we’ve seen presents that, food insecurity presents that. I think the great learning is that we are stronger as a community. If we do things collectively and put our minds to things collectively, we can get through these challenges,” Steenkamp said this afternoon.
A Vision in Bloom fundraiser:
A Vision in Bloom is Royal Road’s ongoing campaign “to restore, to re-imagine and to sustain the spectacular gardens and the grounds and landscapes that surround us here”, said Steenkamp.
RRU’s fundraising goal this year is $250,000 what Steenkamp said will “continue our important work as custodians” of the lands around the post-secondary campus. Donations can be made online (one-time gift or a year-long monthly pledge) or by cheque in the mail. With a year-long pledge of just $25/month you can adopt a section of the garden.
The gardens that about 50 people stood in today are more than 100 years old now. “And they continue their renewal thanks to generous donors across our community,” said Steenkamp, alongside a fundraising poster with details of that initiative.
Restoration of the glass house (an original greenhouse of the Dunsmuir era that has been in continuous use). “It’s a lot of work, a lot of money,” said Steenkamp.
A legacy bench program is part of the fundraising program, to which people are invited to purchase commemorative benches to celebrate persons who are special to them.
Revitalizing the Japanese Garden:
A significant revitization of the Japanese gardens is underway. It’s already an important destination for visitors here, but will soon have a traditional tea garden added to the serene surroundings that include unique plantings, a fish pond, avenues of cherry trees, and over a hundred donated bonsai trees all captured beyond a new gate entrance with widened walkways for easy access to the garden.
All of that “will truly make this one of the most spectacular Japanese gardens in all of Canada”, the RRU president told the crowd.
Funding from last year’s campaign supported planning and design work for this project.
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke has been covering news of the west shore since 2008, with a view to a sustainable lifestyle and economy on south Vancouver Island.
Her publication was first called MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010), which then was morphed into the print weekly Sooke Voice News (2011-2013), then into the weekly print and PDF format West Shore Voice News (2014-2020), before emerging as a full online news portal as Island Social Trends in mid-2020.
Island Social Trends offers a journalism scholarship to graduating students in the west shore.
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