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Breaking ground and bread together

Potato co-op brings people and food closer at resource centre

Tucked away behind the Community Resource Centre (CRC) on Joyce Avenue, a potato patch is growing, people are hoeing and a community of friends is developing.

Beside their 10 neat ridges of dark soil, a simple sign reads “Come Join Us.” CRC summer intern Garrett Townsend said that every week people come and ask how to get involved. Typically 10 people show up on Thursday mornings for an hour or more of weeding, digging, and hilling around the potato plants. Townsend tries to find work suitable for all ages and abilities. The children like to rock pick, and now the soil is much easier to work with. “But it is not just about work,” he said. “We laugh and have conversations. Really if 15 people work for just 15 minutes that is like four hours of work—half a day—so we get lots done too.”

Community members have also stepped forward to help. CRC’s neighbour lent them the land adjacent to the Community Garden for the season, and First Credit Union donated money for developing the soil. Donations from Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative helped them to plant 400 potato starts. And they expect to have thousands of potatoes to share among the participants and to give to the CRC lunch program.

“I feel completely supported by Powell River,” added Townsend. “I found a rototiller on Craigslist for sale, and the owner lent it to the project. People who come into the CRC, especially the seniors, are a great resource. If I have a problem, like the lawn mower has broken down, I go in and talk about it and soon we are outside taking apart the mower. When I come back from lunch I am told ‘The lawn mower is working.’ I will really miss them.”

Christine Townley from inclusion Powell River (formerly Powell River Association for Community Living) said that the potato co-op is a great fit for her clients. “The people I support are often shy and feel isolated,” she said. “I can introduce them to the other people working here. We share work and then we share food at the CRC. My job is to reduce isolation and this project is one of the most awesome things ever.”

One of the most steadfast volunteers is Isaac Peitz. One week he and Townsend built an arbour for a grapevine that needed a place to grow. The next week he built a path from the garden to the potato patch using donated wood chips. “I really like the work,” said Peitz, “and the best thing about this, is the people that I meet. I meet lots of different people. And we give back to the community.”

The CRC could use the potatoes, and they will, he added. The potato co-op is just one of its programs and food is an important part of what the resource centre offers. Manager Martyn Wooley has seen up to 130 people come in for Monday brunch.

“This is a place for everybody,” said Wooley. “You, me, and the mayor.” The doors are open five days a week and anyone is welcome to join free classes in yoga and art, or receive pro-bono legal advice, regular nurse visits, or even do laundry. The activities often link people from different parts of the community. “Maybe you don’t need support,” said Wooley. “For you it might be that you give support.” A popular gathering is “Humble and Hearty,” a low budget cooking and nutrition class. Creating meals for low-cost is an art, and Wooley boasts, “Our kitchen people can make a buffet out of nothing.”

Everyone who comes through the door on Monday morning is welcome to sit down and share brunch, he said. The regular crowd help themselves to coffee and fill the dining area, chatting congenially. Young moms with their babies sit on the couches together. A young dad shares out breakfast with his kids, before taking a few minutes to check something on one of the computer terminals. The kitchen staff and volunteers serve portions of potato-crust egg and cheese pie, salad, fruit and yogurt.

Staff member Keith Burdon came to the CRC when he needed support; now he volunteers his time to help out. “I love working here,” he said. “My heart is here. I like giving back. You need a place like this in town.” Burdon will tell people to come to the CRC because he said some people don’t know about it. “A friend of mine came by and thought it was a store.”

Eric de Beaupre, another long-time volunteer, commented that he has seen a lot of positive change over the years. “I’ve noticed people here over time, and they change for the better,” he said. “It may take four years, but they change.”

Kenny Vesterfelt moved to Powell River several months ago and has made firm friends at the CRC. “My sister told me about this place,” he said, “and I can’t keep away from it. It is friendly here.” Vesterfelt is just getting started in Powell River. He has trouble reading and communicating but said: “I still do what I want to do. I just do it differently. Whatever happens, I don’t give up.”

After brunch, people take their leave and some take a loaf of bread from a rack beside the door. The bread is donated by Save-On-Foods, one of many community donors to the CRC.

The potato patch out back is a public example of what is going on inside the CRC. People are connecting through food and activities. “I am really happy with the CRC.” said Wooley, “This place is a touchstone. You can drive through [Powell River] and not see the real needs of this community. Our social services are being taxed. We try really hard to never deny access to anyone, and our staff are gentle with the community. Powell River would be a different place if the CRC were not here.”

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