Opinion

Potato theft discourages young gardeners

Nanaimo Foodshare manages seven school food gardens year-round. The objective is to inspire students to plant, tend and harvest their own fresh, organic food while learning about local food systems. But Olivia Hill, garden manager, reports that theft at the John Barsby Secondary School garden has been devastatingly high this summer, with a significant increase over the month of July. Stolen vegetables include tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, leeks, garlic, mixed greens, and potatoes.

This is not just people taking vegetables for home use because two large beds with over 100 kilograms of new potatoes were dug up on two Wednesday evenings during the month of July. Equipment and transportation would have been required for this scale of theft.

While Barsby students are not in session during the summer, the produce in the garden is harvested by participants in community programs such as the Harewood Mining Community Water Park. These summer camp students assist in garden maintenance and look forward to preparing healthy snacks with fresh produce from the garden.

Many hours of hard work have gone into maintaining productive gardens over the summer: watering, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, and planting. This work is done by Nanaimo Foodshare staff as well as community day camp participants, putting in from fifteen to twenty hours per week. Our tax dollars have funded these programs through grants for the benefit of our youth.

Last year an aggressive potato thief ignored the young assistant at the site and proceeded to dig up potatoes in front of her. Signs were installed to explain the purpose of the demonstration garden, as well as how the produce is utilized during the summer.

The students from John Barsby and Georgia Avenue who planted these potatoes in April and cared for them throughout the spring will be upset to discover that all their potatoes have been stolen. Olivia said, “Digging up potatoes in September is one of the students’ favourite garden activities, as it is always so exciting to discover just how many pounds of potatoes were produced by each plant.”

Students learn life skills from active participation and experience. When they dig up potatoes, they learn that there are rewards for patience and work. They learn where French fries and chips come from. They learn about storing and cooking and sharing. They learn that dirt is magical and full of life. A jaded young person who only knows commercial potato salad will delightedly eat new mixtures dressed with tasty vinaigrettes and emulsions when that person grew and harvested the food and learns how to prepare it.

This learning has been stolen from them. How can our community help prevent it happening again?

The Nanaimo Foodshare Society is looking for suggestions on how to engage neighbours in protecting the students’ gardens as well as donations for surveillance cameras. Foodshare can be reached at 250-390-3363.

Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandalstewart@shaw.ca.

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