National energy challenge spurs support of gardens

Nanaimo’s Belbin family is looking to support community gardens and the food bank.

  • Nov. 19, 2011 6:00 a.m.

By Wayne Emde

With less than a month to go in their three-month quest to win the Canadian Geographic/Shell Canada Energy Diet Challenge, Nanaimo’s Belbin family is looking to support community gardens and the food bank.

The Belbins – Grant, Alison and children Drew, Kai and Mara – have been blogging their experiences on the challenge website, hoping others will be inspired by the simple changes they’ve made in their home.

The Belbins recently got involved with the Young Professionals of Nanaimo community garden project and decided to take it further.

“For mere pennies a year [$30], our family now rents a garden bed and in the spring we’ll start growing vegetables and flowers side-by-side with community members who know more than we do,” said Alison.

The YPN gardens are set up at former gas station sites.

“These sites will help teach those with no gardening experience how to grow and care for plants. We have the potential to educate and inspire the community to create gardens of their own, while providing an alternative use for some of our city’s most visible empty lots,” said Jenn Bogwald of the YPN.

The past two months made the Belbins acutely aware of many energy saving strategies and one of them is the energy cost of importing food.

“When we found out less than five per cent of the food consumed on the Island is grown locally, we realized it’s with projects like this one that we can increase these numbers,” said Alison. “Across Canada, there are over 2,800 abandoned gas stations sitting vacant. Imagine if all of these could be turned into community gardens? It’s mind blowing.”

Although they have to wait until spring before they can plant their new garden, the family was inspired to make an immediate impact.

If they win the challenge, they plan to donate $500 to the expansion and growth of the community gardens and match that with a donation from their business, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, for a total of $1,000 to be split between providing fresh foods to the food bank this Christmas and promoting sustainability and education year-round through the community gardens.

There’s a catch. Part of the competition with the other five families involves rallying community members to go to the the Energy Diet Challenge website daily and vote for the Belbins, who are currently in second place.

“A vote for us is now a vote for a healthier Nanaimo,” said Alison.

To vote for the Belbins, please go to

For more information about the YPN garden project, please e-mail