Colton Browne

YMCA helps stave off soil death in Colwood

Community group steps in to support teaching garden

The bustling sounds of engines and traffic make up the soundtrack to a quaint teaching garden along Sooke Road.

What was once a barren field of splotchy grass growing out of hard, compressed ground is now, five years later, a destination community garden providing produce each year.

The teaching garden includes an orchard, herb garden and perennial garden. There are also raised boxes available to the public.

Through donations and many volunteer hours the garden grew in the minds of Bonnie Keleher and Heather Ratcliffe Hood of School District 62,  local farmer Candace Thompson and Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton, who at the time was a councillor.

“I am most proud of the living soil here now. Soil isn’t as easy to build as one might think,” said Thompson who is a teacher and agricultural consultant at the garden.

In 2005 Colwood council sought a teaching garden near Pacific secondary school and when that fell through the city jumped on board with a plan laid out by West Shore Centre for Learning and Training.

“I said it needed to be front and centre in the public eye,” said Hamilton. “I wanted people to look at it, be proud of it, and want to protect it.”

The fate of the garden was tested when Keleher retired from the Sooke district in 2011.

“She left a gaping gap,” said Stephen McHugh, vice principal West Shore Centre for Learning and Training. “I didn’t even know how to grow a potato.”

Keleher worked at the school for 25 years as the continuing education co-ordinator. Her work with the garden was done on her own time volunteering for a project she was passionate about. She created planting and working schedules as well as organized the volunteers and user groups.

Looking to fill the gap, McHugh felt a sigh of relief when the YMCA/YWCA of Greater Victoria stepped in to help. The community organization provides a co-ordinator and about $15,000 a year to run and maintain the teaching garden.

The produce grown on the Colwood site will be harvested and sold at farmer’s markets and fed to children attending the organization’s Camp Thunderbird in Sooke.

“Without the YMCA this garden would have died a slow death,” McHugh said. “If the garden wasn’t here we wouldn’t have anyone enrolled in our sustainable resources class.”