Unfavourable spring weather may have put a dent in their produce, but it wasn’t enough to stop Jessy’s Garden from having a successful season in 2013.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Jessy’s Garden co-owners Bonny and Mel Sanderson stand in front of an on-site sunflower garden. The Sandersons closed Jessy’s Garden for the season this week, having grown 27,061 pounds’ worth of produce and received 3,872 visitors over the course of the year.
The non-profit community garden, which donates fresh organic produce to local residents free of charge, measures its success each year by the weight of produce that goes out and the number of people who visit the garden.
By that rubric, co-owners Bonny and Mel Sanderson found this year’s results -- 27,061 pounds of produce and 3,872 visitors -- more than satisfactory.
“I’d say we had a phenomenal year,” Bonny said.
At the start of the season, she noted, they had a goal of reaching 4,000 visitors and putting out 40,000 pounds of produce.
Early spring threw a wrench in those plans with a spate of cold and wet weather, as did acts of vandalism from a trespasser.
“We could have taken more out if the weather co-operated,” Mel said.
While the weather helped to decrease yields, community support allowed the Sandersons to push those numbers back up.
Bonny singled out half a dozen regular volunteers for particular praise.
“We had some very dedicated volunteers that continuously week after week would be here and not expect anything back from it,” she said.
Jessy’s Garden also held its first fundraisers this year -- including a successful event last month that raised $2,800 for a new tractor, which the couple has since purchased.
The Sandersons’ next goal is a front-end loader for the tractor, which will cost approximately $5,000.
Based on their experiences this season, another fundraiser is highly likely in the near future.
“Our volunteers have asked us to do another one this winter, because we’ve had so much fun in the last two,” Bonny said. “We’re kicking that around right now.”
For only the second year, the Sandersons charged a small fee to visitors who do not help with the garden, in order to cover costs such as fuel, equipment, electricity and water.
We had some very dedicated volunteers. Bonny Sanderson
Previously, all such costs had been paid for out of the couple’s own pockets.
“We have a hand-up system out here, not a handout,” Bonny said. “So when you come in, if you can’t afford your food, we ask if possible for you to do some volunteer work.
“If it’s weeding or picking produce for … another family that’s in need, or just helping out in different areas in the gardens, that’s where our volunteer hours come in. And if you don’t want to do volunteer work, you can come in and pay $10 for a bag and fill that bag with whatever produce you want and take that home.”
Five years after the Sandersons created the community garden as a tribute to their late daughter Jessy Plaskitt-Atkins, the project has grown beyond any of their expectations in terms of scale and community support.
The couple received so many seeds from donors this year that, unlike previous years, they will not have to buy any themselves next spring other than potatoes and onions.
Expansion is now on the agenda, with the Sandersons busy cleaning the yard and rototilling to prepare a new growing area.
“We’re going from having five gardens all over the place to having one very large one, and it’ll be 10 acres,” Bonny said. “But there are some things that we can’t plant on that property where it has to be watched closer, like lettuces and tomatoes and stuff like that. So that’ll have to be planted closer to home.
“We also have to work on getting an irrigation system for the other property too,” she added. “So that’s going to be our goal for the spring, I believe, is trying to get all that together, because we will have to water at some point during the season.”