Alanna Clempson.

Alanna Clempson.

Alanna Clempson: Building a community around food

Chilliwack's Alanna Clempson, 32, as featured in The Chilliwack Progress Forty Under 40.

Alanna Clempson, 32, has been making the backyard garden “front and centre” in Chilliwack.

“Everyone has something positive to say about our front food garden,” she says. “It draws so much interest.”

She and her family dug up the lawn surrounding their Fairfield Island home to plant healthy food crops out front. It’s part conversation starter, part teaching opportunity — and all about food security.

Food security asks the pivotal question of where the food we eat comes from, and how it’s produced, emphasizing the importance of choosing local, seasonal food.

“It’s important for families to grow and cook food together; to talk about life cycles of plants and bugs. It’s all-around better to have these skills.”

For Clempson, it all started out as an intense love of flowers. She kept a veggie garden wherever she lived.

It blossomed into a focus on food on a broader scale.

“I love to talk to our neighbours as we tend our gardens every summer. There’s so much to be learned from seniors.”

There is always some new trick to learn about amending the soil or companion planting.

“For me this year, it’s the importance of mulching.”

A garden always yields something beautiful. It feeds the family, smells good, and there’s even a rich spiritual dimension to it for Clempson.

“It’s so peaceful to spend time there. I find it’s a way to listen to God.”

A couple of years ago, she’d been looking for a way to connect with community around some of these ideas, and the Food Matters Chilliwack network fit the bill.

It offered the chance to raise awareness with other like-minded community members about getting back to the essentials of growing healthy food in a sustainable way.

“Food security has become a huge issue for our society because so much of that valuable knowledge has been lost.”

She started off coordinating gleaning projects with unharvested or unused food, and last summer launched Plant A Row Grow A Row for Food Matters Chilliwack.

Plant A Row veggies were donated to the Chilliwack Salvation Army’s Food Bank, and various recipients received nuts and fruit in the case of gleaning.

Plant a Row encourages gardeners to plant some food crops for personal use, as well as growing root vegetables for soups and stews to feed the hungry and homeless of Chilliwack at the same time.

“We’re trying to create opportunities for people who live in Chilliwack to get reconnected with the earth.

“We have so much land that could be productive.”

Gleaners are heading into their third season of food redistribution, including nut and fruit crops. The first year they participated in 21 gleaning sessions, and 30 the second year. The bounty was shared between the property owners, the gleaners and the receiving partners in a three-way split.

More than 130 people registered for the first Plant a Row season last summer, and they’re heading into the second year of the program with an April 21 kickoff on earth day. More than 70 PARGAR growers were given some seeds, seed potatoes and pointers for the first season.

“The success is really in the people, the turnout, the relationships that are created. It was about the spark, not in the number of pounds of veggies that are brought in, although that’s important, too.

“It’s about so much more.”