Park board's VanDusen Botanical Garden, Sunset Nursery to donate season's vegetable crops to vulnerable residents

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      Most of the VanDusen Botanical Garden's vegetable crop this year will be going to Vancouver's Gathering Place Community Centre.

      The Downtown South facility on Helmcken Street—jointly run by the city, B.C. Housing, and the Vancouver school board since 1995—is a drop-in centre where Downtown Eastside residents can get meals, showers, and participate in community programs, among other activities.

      The centre serves about 400 meals per day to the district's vulnerable populations, which include homeless, seniors, and other low-income residents who live with food insecurity.

      The Vancouver park board announced in a July 5 news release that approximately 1,350 kilograms of produce grown in VanDusen's vegetable garden this year, about 75 percent of the facility's annual production, would be donated as it matured.

      “We’ve been serving fresh, organic salads with the produce we’ve received so far, and people love it," Diane Brown, the Gathering Place's food services coordinator, said in the release. "We’re looking forward to receiving a variety of produce throughout summer."

      The other 25 percent of the garden's vegetables and herbs are going to the adjacent Shaughnessy Restaurant, which will feature the produce in a series of summerlong seasonal dishes designed to showcase sustainable, local, and urban cuisine.

      The restaurant is donating the funds it would have spent on the crops to the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks.

      “Food-system sustainability is of great importance," park board chair Camil Dumont said in the release. "It’s rewarding to see our system and our staff working to better the Vancouver food landscape in this way.”

      The park board's Sunset Nursery, located at Main Street and 51st Avenue, also grows produce in addition to most of the city parks' landscaping plants and flowers. This year, an amount about double in quantity to that of VanDusen's harvest will be donated to organizations that provide food to the city's residents, including the Carnegie Community Centre.

      The park board's Sunset Nursery harvests thousands of kilograns of vegetables every year in addition to the ornamentals it propagates for Vancouver's parks.

      On the nursery's web page, park board chair Dumont said the facility started growing leafy greens in addition to root vegetables for donation last year.

      “This spring [2020], our staff began growing vegetables and herbs such as lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, and parsley at Sunset Nursery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and increased levels of food insecurity,” Dumont said.

      “We recognize urban agriculture as a valuable food-focused activity that can contribute to community development, environmental awareness and benefits, positive social interaction, learning, health, exercise, wellness, and access to fresh food.”

      Last summer, produce was distributed to various programs through organizations like Fresh Roots and the Grandview Woodland Food Connection.

      VanDusen Botanical Garden is operated on 22 hectares of land at 5251 Oak Street by both the park board and the Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association. It is on the site of the former Shaughnessy Golf Course and opened to the public in 1975.