Around 400 gardeners throughout the Kootenay region received a free package of seeds from the Kootenay Food cooperative in April, with each package varying in sizes from 12 to 1,000 seeds.
“When we asked people if they wanted free seeds, people poured in responses by the minute. Every minute, there was five new responses,” said Shauna Fidler, the chair of the West Kootenay Permaculture Co-op, the group behind Kootenay Food.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kootenay Food’s programming typically consisted of hands-on skill-building workshops, where they would bring together people, process food, teach groups food safety skills and send them home with a share of the product.
“We had money to put into programming — and we don’t have the ability to host programs — and we want to make sure that there’s excess food in the future,” said Fidler. “It occurred to us that if we shared seeds with people, we’d be investing in future food excess.”
A variety of seeds were delivered, which included carrots, beans, kale, peas and even those for the borage pollination flower.
“A lot were for people who had never gardened before, which was very exciting,” said Fidler. “Probably a quarter of the envelopes we sent out were for people who had never grown food before.”
Gardeners were asked to indicate their level of experience when registering for a package, and they were also invited to participate in the co-op’s “Grow a Row” initiative.
“If they did, we would send them extra seeds and they could pick what type. We encouraged folks — depending on where they are in the area — to share with their neighbours, friends, their local food bank,” said Fidler.
The co-op also asked participants to provide updates on the status of their gardens via social media, and the group has also been posting gardening instruction videos on their own Youtube and Facebook pages.
“Teaching people how to use their harvest with the idea that we’re getting to a place of shelf stability, so that we can put out food for the future or a potential second wave of COVID,” said Fidler.
The co-op bought a total of 4,000 packs of seeds and sorted the envelopes themselves, and while Fidler noted that it was a costly endeavour, she said it was a great investment for the Kootenay region.
“It was crazy. We thought only 100 people will sign up. By the time we fit 400, we had to pull the plug because we didn’t have enough seeds,” she said.