In part 1 of our two-part blog series, we shine the spotlight on an amazing nonprofit: Richmonds very own Sharing Farm.
When I learned that I’d be spending a morning away from the office and out in the beautiful sunshine at the Sharing Farm in Richmond, BC (with our designer and photographer Scott and designer and videographer Denny in tow), my first thought was “yes—field trip!” But when I began to research the farm and all the amazing work they’re doing, I was blown away.
It was a privilege to meet and spend time with farm manager James Gates and marketing and communications manager Gretchen Frazer, as they toured us around the farm grounds. (Above is a photo of us in the farm’s greenhouse. From left to right: myself, James, and Gretchen.) Here’s just some of what Scott, Denny, and I learned.
Changing the notion of “food bank food”
The Sharing Farm has been a registered charity since 2001.Over the years, they’ve evolved and expanded (“organically,” Gates adds with a laugh, “the way we do everything here!”), but their mandate—and passion—remains the same: to grow food for Richmond families in need. They estimate that they’ve donated a whopping 200,000 pounds of vegetables—pretty amazing for a small nonprofit that’s almost entirely volunteer run!
Gates tells me that “the [Richmond] food bank feeds about 1,000 people a week (500 families), and our veggies are a significant portion of that.” But it’s not just fresh veggies—it’s organic, sustainably grown fresh veggies, because, as Gates notes, “it’s more nutritious, it’s healthier for the environment, and it’s just a good thing to do.”
Not all of the food that’s donated goes to the food bank—much of it goes to community meal programs run out of various Richmond churches, so it helps feed Richmond’s hungry in a different way. Frazer explains to me all of the careful planning that goes into this.
- First, the churches work together to stagger their meals, so people could get a healthy meal any day of the week.
- Then, the Sharing Farm’s food is divided based on where it’s headed. Generally, hearty veggies go to food banks because they’re easier to transport (many low-income people don’t have cars, so imagine waiting at a bus stop with greens that wilt easily, versus sturdier carrots or potatoes), while the delicate greens go to community meal programs for fresh salads. Thanks to their greenhouse, the Sharing Farm donated about 700 pounds of fresh greens between January and April.
- Finally, they go as far as to tailor the kinds of veggies grown to the demographics they serve: because Richmond has a large population of Asian immigrants, they grow lots of Asian greens.
At the heart of this is the fact that they’re essentially changing the notion of food bank food. As Frazer eloquently explained to me, “with some of the older models of food bank food (with all the canned products) sure, it’ll fill your nutritional needs, but opening a can of green beans versus taking a fresh green bean and letting your kids snap it in half—you remember those things. Snapping a carrot, biting into a green bean—just the taste of fresh. All kids should be able to grow up with that.”
Thursday, I was told many times, is the busiest day at the Sharing Farm, as it seems to be when most of their volunteer groups are there. These include retired grandmothers who love to come and socialize, those who are mentally challenged, and even recovering drug addicts. There’s something very healing that comes with spending time in nature gardening, Gates explains. They call it “horticultural therapy”—and anyone can benefit from it.
A large portion of their labour comes from corporate groups. Like me, many employees are happy to spend time away from their computers, getting their hands dirty—so much so, that the companies actually pay the Sharing Farm to come and volunteer, which helps to cover some of the Sharing Farm’s expenses, as well as the training of the volunteers. As Gates puts it, “it’s a feel-good situation” for everyone involved.
As if that’s not enough, the Sharing Farm also runs a community-supported agriculture box program (where members of the community subscribe to the program and receive a box of produce each week), maintains their impressive website (featuring lip-smacking recipes), and throws their annual garlic festival—the biggest in Metro Vancouver, complete with food trucks, cooking demos, and celebrity chefs!
Among their other partnerships is a close relationship with the Richmond Farm School, whose students literally “get their digs” (and provide a valuable labour source) at the Sharing Farm. It’s hard to remember that the farm only employs six (six!) people, and they’re all part-time.
From the way Gates and Frazer talk about these events and partnerships, it’s clear that this is much bigger than farming, and even bigger than donating to food banks—this is about community building as a whole.
Help the Sharing Farm
As amazing as the Sharing Farm employees and volunteers are, they’re not superheroes, and the Sharing Farm is a registered charity. Now more than ever, they desperately need help to construct a new building, in addition to running their ongoing projects.
Next week, for part 2 of our blog series, we’ll explain their fundraising efforts to “build the heart of the farm,” and how we can all chip in. But if you’re feeling inspired already, feel free to check out their fundraising website.