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A harvest of love and fresh produce at Blueberry Fields

With Thanksgiving and the fall harvest in the rearview mirror and Halloween and the holidays fast approaching, we begrudgingly admit our community garden, Blueberry Fields, will take a rest for the winter.

But not without celebrating a wonderful season!

After activities were scaled back, hampered by the pandemic and limitations on volunteer numbers over the last few years, this summer saw the garden, nestled behind the Upper Oakville Shopping Centre, a hub of activity once again.

Recently, the Home Suite Hope team was on-site to help with the annual close-down chores.

The evidence of a busy season was all around. Straggler potatoes and carrots were unearthed as beds were tilled and raked for the winter, and garden Manager Ken Stockstill was still getting every bit out of the garden as he had the HSH team planting garlic for a quick turnaround harvest.

Ken is with the Upper Oakville Shopping Centre.

The garden, nestled just behind that mall, was founded by Ken, who manages it in addition to his role at the shopping centre as a labour of love. He is assisted by Ruth Borst, a retired librarian and long-time Halton resident, who manages the volunteers who work the garden all season – in conjunction with Kim Hutchison from the mall.

The garden’s harvest is distributed to those in need – including single families in Home Suite Hope’s (HSH) program, and the general community – through Kerr Street Mission (KSM).

The 5,000 sq. ft. garden, has 2,000 sq. ft. of growing space in nearly two dozen planter beds – and successfully turns out a bounty of potatoes, cabbage, zucchini, lettuce, beans, rhubarb, green onions and more. It also grows items like kale, tomatoes, herbs and berries. Ken said seeds are sown according to the concept that whatever can go into a stew, can go into the garden. There are carrots, peppers, onions, zucchini, cucumbers, cabbages, even butternut squash.

In 2015, the owners of the Upper Oakville Shopping Centre approached its property manager Megan Richardson and Ken, wanting to create something from the vacant lot behind the centre. Megan and Ken saw an opportunity to give back to those and the mall’s owners were quickly onboard. As the garden’s harvest grew over the years, HSH and KSM partnered to make it available to anyone in need.

The HSH staff team was at the garden recently to pitch in – just as local neighbours and corporate volunteer groups, who want to give back to the community, do all season long.

Volunteer teams from Sagen (formerly Genworth Canada) and Ian Martin Group have been pitching in to grow yields far above expectations for years. They were back again this season – in their corporate T-shirts and with music to entertain them while they worked.

It is these volunteer efforts, supervised by Ruth and Ken, which make the garden a success story and make recipes come to life on local dinner tables.

It has been Ken who has nurtured the garden over the years – just prior to the pandemic, he hand-carved and painted a new sign for it. Family members and local high school students helped him get the garden and its planting beds established; volunteers have helped him work the garden… bed preparation, planting, weeding and harvest; and, he’s even driven the harvest to distribution.

Many customers of Upper Oakville Shopping Centre, which opened its doors in 1986 and has been part of the Iroquois Ridge North community since, and residents from the broader community may not know what a gem quietly sows the seeds of sharing within the community.

Ken, who grew up in California, moved to Canada four decades ago and settled in Oakville nearly three decades ago. He studied horticulture and calls himself an urban gardener. He has been the shopping centre’s superintendent since 2003.

“Blueberry Fields is a community garden and 100 per cent of what we grow – vegetables, fruits and herbs – is donated to charity,” says Ken, who first planted blueberry shrubs on the hill leading to the vacant lot. Today, you can’t miss the tall-standing sunflowers that signal its presence during growing season.

If low-income families need to rely on food banks such as that offered by KSM, and non-perishable food donations, the garden complements it with fresh fruits and vegetables.

While Ken pours his heart into the garden, so too, do the volunteers – and that’s really what makes the garden grow.

Home Suite Hope would be remiss if it did not, at the end of yet another successful growing season, extend heartfelt thanks to Ken, Ruth and the many volunteers, individual and corporate, who help our garden grow.

Thank you for all that you do!

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