Tsawwassen retirees Graham and Maja Willoughby signed up for a garden plot a few years ago at a community garden called Earthwise, a 5-minute drive from their home. Along with tending their own green crop of veggie heaven, they became Earthwise volunteers – a dedicated involvement that has blossomed into many meaningful hours helping the farm and garden with seeding, feeding, weeding and much more.
Earthwise is a charitable society operating a two-acre community garden and farm in Tsawwassen, while promoting a healthy, local, organic foodie lifestyle. The Willoughbys’ participation grew when they spotted the farm’s tomato greenhouse plants were in need of extra tender loving care, so Graham and Maja jumped in to help.
“It’s all been quite a bit of fun,” says Maja. “And some challenges,” adds Graham. “Two main things we are trying to do here is to have the most nutrient-dense fruit we can get, and to get as many nutrient-rich tomatoes as possible,” emphasizes Graham. “And we also want them to taste good,” adds Maja.
The Willoughbys have become resident tomato experts while amassing a storehouse of information about organic gardening. “This year we are growing about 35 varieties of heirloom tomatoes,” says Maja. “We grow red, yellow, orange, green and even white ones. We’ve also got striped and multi-coloured ones.”
It’s not uncommon to see the Willoughbys at the farm at 8 a.m. pruning, fertilizing, staking or watering the tomato plants. The watering alone can take two people three hours to complete. These are plants they have started from seed in April, nurtured for transplanting in May and tended for late summer and fall harvesting. Some of their varieties have exotic names like African Queen or Japanese Black Trifele - with the Willoughbys able to tell the intriguing tales behind the development of many of these heirlooms.
“The most important thing here is the soil,” Graham emphasizes. “This area has clay, so we have had to double dig and add plenty of organic matter. These tomatoes have loads of minerals - due to ingredients such as fish fertilizer, glacial rock dust, leaves and compost added to the soil.” Graham and Maja also take care of their own Earthwise vegetable plot, where they grow healthy vegetables like beets, leeks, kale, cabbage and onions.
Canada’s Food Guide recommends seniors have seven servings of vegetables and fruits per day. “Scientific studies have shown that vegetables and fruits – especially dark green, orange, yellow and red ones – contain natural disease-fighting ingredients called phytochemicals along with other valuable nutrients. “Eat well, Age well,” is the motto in the BC Ministry of Health publication Healthy Eating for Seniors: “healthy eating can help maintain and improve health, along with preventing the progress of many chronic illnesses.”
Food gardening has been experiencing a resurgence as people recognize its many benefits: fresh air, sunshine, exercise and delicious fresh fruits and vegetables. Earthwise Society offers more than 50 community garden plots on their fertile Tsawwassen farmland. The spaces have become so popular there is now a waiting list. Local residents, who may be downsizing into smaller living quarters with limited or no outdoor yard space, are particularly appreciative of their gardens here while growing a diverse selection of crops – everything asparagus to zucchini.
These enthusiastic gardeners exchange gardening successes and challenges - while learning from Earthwise gardening programs with expert advice about which seeds to plant each month, how to grow organically and how to get the most out of a garden space. Growers here are also known to swap seeds and food recipes to further enhance their healthy living experience.
“Earthwise Society recently began a new program specifically geared for seniors,” reports Earthwise Director Patricia Fleming. “Recognizing that many older adults have expertise that they would love to share, this program seeks to engage them in teaching and mentoring others, and in taking on leadership roles in the organization. If you are looking to put your skills and knowledge to work for a good cause, feel free to contact us and let us know how you would like to be involved.”
Earthwise Garden and Farm, with the help of volunteers like the Willoughbys, will also be hosting a Tomato Festival on Saturday September 15, where visitors can sample tasty freshly-picked tomatoes and enjoy some of the hard-to-find heirloom varieties. This is the time of year when their abundant autumn harvest of champion heritage tomatoes is prominent.
“We welcome you for a celebration of these seasonal gems,” says Patricia Fleming. There will be contests, music, displays, and produce sales including many, many hand-grown tomatoes!
For more information about the Tomato Festival or volunteer opportunities, visit the Earthwise website at www.earthwisesociety.bc.ca or phone 604-946-9828.
SEPTEMBER 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE
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