A group of Chilliwack students and volunteers braved the pouring rain and tromped through the mud last week to harvest produce for charity.
About 100 people were out at the Sardis Secondary School Farm on Oct. 19 where they harvested more than 4,500 pounds of potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes and more for the Salvation Army.
It was all part of the Salvation Army’s inaugural Plant A Row For Us, a program where community members plant produce in their own garden and then donate it to the food bank throughout the summer.
Sardis Secondary School teacher Tania Toth said she heard about the program through Brian Minter.
“We decided we would help as long as it was through students – student directed, student learning, student led. That’s the initiative we pulled off,” she said. “This year we planted 15,000 square feet for the Salvation Army.”
On Oct. 19, about two-thirds of that 15,000-square foot plot was harvested, packaged up, and loaded onto a truck. But that was just some of the produce the school donated. In addition to the 4,581 pounds harvested that day, they handed over approximately 1,000 pounds every week through the summer.
“I couldn’t have ever imagined the scale of it. I was expecting maybe a wheelbarrow full,” said Josh Draheim with the Chilliwack Salvation Army.
Instead, what the Salvation Army received was nearly 12,000 pounds of produce so far – and that’s just from Sardis Secondary. There’s still about 2,000 pounds left on the school farm to harvest for the food bank.
Sardis Secondary’s donation to Plant A Row For Us was the largest one the Salvation Army received. In total, 30,500 pounds came in to the Chilliwack food bank from community gardens and individuals via the program.
“For us, it’s about being able to extend to our students acts of service, acts of community through food,” Toth said.
The 15,000-square-foot garden they planted for Plant A Row For Us is on top of the produce they planted for the students who take part in the school’s agriculture and farm programs.
In the spring, high school students in the agriculture program plant seeds and seedlings. Some of those teens continue planting and harvesting with the program through the summer, along with elementary and middle school kids who take part in a farm program. Once the new school year starts up in the fall, Sardis Secondary students continue to harvest.
Grade 10 student Sophie Youssef has been involved for the past two years.
“I love that if you want to do something meaningful for your community, you can just come to this program and do it. You can help your community by donating food and you get to learn so much about agriculture and apply it to your own garden at home,” she said.
Draheim said he was blown away by how successful Plant A Row For Us was in its inaugural year.
“For year one, we’re just ecstatic. We can’t believe the way the community has rallied around us, the excitement and the momentum.”
The food harvested on Oct. 19 was brought to the Salvation Army to put on the shelves of their free store called The Pantry. They also handed it out to Stó:lō Nation community members and Wilma’s Transition Society.
Draheim said over the past few years, keeping fresh produce in The Pantry has been a struggle. Three years ago, they would get about 50 to 60 people per day coming in. These days the average is 200 with some days being as high as 300.
Before donations started coming in for Plant A Row For Us, sometimes they would have to close The Pantry doors early or turn people away. They knew they needed more supply.
“That’s why we started Plant a Row For Us. We never imagined it would grow this big in year one,” Draheim said.
They are hoping the program will grow even more next year.
“I know there are thousands of local gardeners in Chilliwack who grow things and have nowhere to put it,” he said.
He’s asking people to donate what they don’t need and said the produce goes straight into the hands of single parents, low-income families, seniors, immigrants and others who need it.
“It gives me so much hope and excitement that we can continue this partnership and we never have to close The Pantry early, we never have to turn people away.”
The rainy harvest was a way to “celebrate the bountiful harvest, but it’s also an opportunity to say thank you,’” Draheim said.