Home Suite Hope staff and volunteers were saddened to hear of the passing of Ken Stockstill, the founder and manager of Blueberry Fields, HSH’s community garden at Upper Oakville Shopping Centre.
“Ken Stockstill, the inspiration and driving force behind Blueberry Fields, died June 5 in hospital after a brief illness. Many of you have known Ken for several years and will be shocked and very saddened to hear this, as I am. We know Ken's passion for Blueberry Fields and for helping others and we have all benefited from his kindness and his wealth of gardening knowledge, which he was so willing to share. He will be sorely missed.”
– Ruth Borst, garden volunteer coordinator and Ken’s right hand at Blueberry Fields.
The thoughts of everyone in the Home Suite Hope community and beyond are with Ken’s family and the team at Blueberry Fields. Ken was a true inspiration.
Blueberry Fields is Home Suite Hope’s (HSH) Community Garden – sitting atop a hill on the north side of the Upper Oakville Shopping Centre – and its harvest is distributed to those in need, HSH participant families and the broader community through Kerr Street Mission.
The 5,000 sq. ft. garden that boasts approximately 2,000 sq. ft. of growing space in 20 planter beds, was founded in 2016 and is a true community effort. It has been overseen by the mall’s Superintendent Ken Stockstill and run by volunteers – all under the watchful eye of its volunteer coordinator Ruth Borst, a retired librarian who has called Halton home for 24 years.
Potatoes, cabbage, zucchini, lettuce, beans, rhubarb, green onions and more – any ingredients suitable for a stew – are among the harvests that were initially made available to HSH participants and then later expanded, as the bounty grew, to include clients of Kerr Street Mission (KSM).
Local neighbours and corporate volunteer groups, who want to give back to the community, volunteer working in the garden all season long.
It has been these volunteer efforts, supervised by Ruth and Ken, which have made the garden a success story and make recipes come to life on local dinner tables.
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.
Ken set to work to establish Blueberry Fields. The garden was established and named – even dedicated to charity (Ken did some research and chose HSH) by Ken.
It has been Ken who has nurtured the garden – even hand-carving and painting a new sign for it – over the years. 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 has 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 indeed residents across town may not know what a gem quietly sows the seeds of sharing within the community.
Ken, who grew up in California, moved to Canada and then to Oakville several decades ago. He studied horticulture and has been called an urban gardener. He was the shopping centre’s superintendent since 2003. The garden became a labour of love for him.
“Blueberry Fields is a community garden and 100 per cent of what we grow – vegetables, fruits and herbs – is donated to charity,” he told HSH a few years ago.
Ken first planted blueberry shrubs on the hill leading to the vacant lot, then set to work on building the garden and naming it as a nod to the blueberry shrubs. Signage from a former mall tenant was repurposed and hung above the garden’s entrance. Over the years, sunflowers became established in the garden and now they beckon across the open land of the surrounding hill as an invitation to the garden. Besides their appeal, Ken said they’re great pollinators. Ken even hand-carved letters and a sunflower to create a new sign for the garden.
The mall designated HSH to be the main beneficiary of the garden’s bounty as all involved were impressed by HSH’s mission to work to end the cycle of poverty in Halton and surrounding communities by providing vital programs and services to support single-parent families.
If low-income families need to rely on food banks and non-perishable food donations, the garden complements it with fresh fruits and vegetables.
While Ken looked after its daily maintenance, supported by Richardson, volunteers keep the garden going. One neighbourhood youth set up a bee hive at the site. Volunteers come from across Halton.
Corporate volunteer teams from Sagen (formerly Genworth Canada) and Raise (formerly Ian Martin Group) have been regular volunteers.
“They show up with their T-shirts on and their music, they love it and have a great time,” observed Ken one year.
Potatoes are a mainstay of the garden and besides items like kale, tomatoes, lettuce, 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.
He had told HSH that his mom was a fan of preserving.
Volunteers make Blueberry Fields Community Garden grow
While Ken pours his heart into the garden, so too, do the volunteers – and that’s really what makes the garden grow.
Ruth has also been Ken’s right hand. He said she was "extraordinary" and his "Number one weeder."
Ruth, a long-time Halton resident and retired librarian, also makes herself available nearly 24/7 – and even on her holidays – to sort out helping hands at the garden.
For more information visit www.homesuitehope.org
Rest peacefully, Ken.
The HSH Team