As you drive the county roads in St.Jacobs, Ontario by Home Hardware Stores Limited headquarters, nearly every farm has a sign proclaiming regional delicacies like maple syrup, summer sausage and seasonal produce. It’s not the kind of place you would associate with hunger, but the truth is, the more Canadians struggle to keep up with the rising rates in life, food insecurity continues to be a reality in many households, not only locally, but across Canada.
In the fall of 2015, our Home Hardware Building Centre in Orillia introduced us to the idea that we could successfully grow fresh produce in our stores using the quality tools, products, and know-how that customers expect from our company. The store was using gardening initiatives in their store to support their local FoodBank, meaning that local families who rely on hamper programs were able to change up the menu in their baskets to include fresh beets, beans, tomatoes and more. Great ideas are worth imitating and we took this win-win ingenuity and introduced it to our corporate head office.
In Spring of 2016, the Home Hardware Community Garden in St. Jacobs was born. The garden sits on over an acre of expansion land, directly across from the distribution centre and corporate office, and in the first year, 17 families joined the effort. Now, only two years later, the garden has expanded into a patchwork of plots that weaves together 35 families as a third of an acre farmed as a cooperative for the local FoodBank.
Having the vegetable garden only steps away from employee workstations has meant that gardens get checked and harvested daily. It has introduced a healthy commute that has staff filling their lungs with fresh air and their pockets with treats like peas, ground cherries, raspberries, or radishes. On the weekends, the garden fills with a wide range of people, from young families to retirees, truck drivers and computer programmers, to material handlers and store staff. The garden’s demographic is as diverse as the crops we cultivate.
Foodbank harvests are done together, which is increasingly important as in just two years, the crew has lifted 5000 pounds of donations into the Home truck destined for Woolwich Community Services. Due to the abundance of crops, any excess of produce is sold to staff to share the goodness of healthy, fresh food. The money from those sales is donated to the FoodBank.
From May to October, the garden runs on the hard work and dedication of countless volunteers, some of whom don’t even have their own plot but chose to participate in the health, social and charitable opportunities that it provides.
This is the spirit of Home Hardware. Home’s vendors have jumped on board and believed in the project from day one; they have contributed rototillers, wheelbarrows, seeds, soils, fertilizers, hand tools, and of course, advice.
What is next for the Home Hardware Community Garden?
We have given our stores the opportunity to get involved by partnering with an existing garden to donate or reduce the cost of the necessary materials. They can build a bed for a local agency or raise funds and awareness by hosting hands-on, or educational seminars in their store. Or like Orillia where it all started, they can grow the food on-site in containers that act as a living display and conversation starter.
In St. Jacobs, we currently have five local classrooms growing vegetable starters for the FoodBank plot, using seeds, soil, and trays provided by Home, all the while learning about food security, social activism, healthy living, and biology.
Buying local is important to consumers, but the reality is that not all members of the community can afford this option. Buying local has a list of benefits: stimulating and supporting local economy; environmental factors like reducing our carbon footprint and controlling what goes into our food, but the reality is, supporting local can come at a high cost, and at times is just not available.
Home Hardware has served close to 1,100 communities for over 50 years and we are not stopping now. We are always looking for unique and innovative ways to give back beyond just selling products, and our community garden initiative is an example of how we are so much more than a retailer. We have a unique opportunity as the local hardware store for thousands of Canadians to make local food accessible to those who may not otherwise have the option. As our founder, Walter Hachborn said, “we are not just in the hardware business, we are in the people business.”
In the Home Hardware Community Garden, we couldn’t agree more.
Courtesy of Home Hardware
About the Author: Julia Swijters works in Retail Education & Communications at Home Hardware and grew up surrounded by the lush farmland of Waterloo Region but discovered her passion for social empowerment while living and working in non-profit in the Dominican Republic. She currently lives in the area with her son 10-year-old son Wyatt who hasn’t met a vegetable he does not like!