Clients of the Vankleek Hill Food Bank will have the opportunity to grow their own fresh produce this summer, thanks to an initiative with local producers and the Champlain Library.

Jane Fantie, co-director of the food bank along with her husband Mike McGurk, reached out to Thaila Riden of The Grand Barn Community Gardens last month to inquire about purchasing a garden plot for the food bank to maintain. In the discussion, Riden made an offer to supply a free plot for the food bank’s clients.

“We reached out to our client base and we got a very good response,” said Fantie, who already has six clients signed up for the plots. “Then the Champlain Library stepped in and said they would provide the seeds.”

Fantie noted the clients of the food bank are beginners to gardening and none who have signed up so far felt comfortable maintaining a standard 20’X20′ plot. The plots will be subdivided into smaller plots for the food bank clients.

The food bank’s own plot will be maintained by volunteers and will be used to grow vegetables to supplement what the organization currently receives from local producers. Fantie said over the past year Richard and Pat Kerr of Harmony Gardens have been donating produce to the food bank, as part of the organization’s move to add locally produced vegetables to its offerings.

“(Harmony Gardens) has been an awesome supporter of the food bank in supplying us with root vegetables – potatoes, carrots and squash,” Fantie said.

Fantie and McGurk have also received support from Justin Reeves of Meadowlark Rise Farm, on what varieties of plants can be grown and later stored for personal use. Volunteers from the Vankleek Hill Food Bank will be using some of that knowledge to teach clients how to maintain their garden plots at a planned event at The Grand Barn over the May long weekend. The training will be subject to the provincial COVID-19 rules at the time.

Fantie said the plan to help clients grow their own food fits in perfectly with the food bank’s goal to expand its network of local producers and to complement the work already being done to that end.

“We can supplement what Harmony Gardens gives us and put the knowledge from Justin to work in growing varieties that we can actually store,” Fantie commented. “It makes me so happy to live in (Vankleek Hill) because it takes a community to feed a community and that’s what this has turned out to be.”

The Vankleek Hill Food Bank has been exceptionally busy since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly tripling its client base over the past year. Volunteers have also been putting donation baskets in boxes – provided by the LCBO – which must be sealed so that the items inside sit for 24-48 hours before being sent out. Despite the extra clients and work, volunteers want to help even more people during the pandemic.

“It would be great if you could let people know that we’re here,” Fantie said, emphasizing the food bank services are open to everyone in the community. “We’re here to help low-income families, we’re here to help seniors.”

“If anybody has food insecurity, give us a call. We’re not asking for any documentation during the pandemic – you just have to call and say you need food and we’ll give it to you.”

Anyone looking to contact the Vankleek Hill Food Bank can do so via email at [email protected] , through the group’s Facebook page, or by calling 613-678-8119. Donation can also me made to the food bank through any of the above contacts.

One of the best ways to support the local food bank is through the brown bag program offered at Vankleek Hill’s Foodland grocery store, Fantie said.