Original Published on Sep 21, 2022 at 09:30
By Ian Croft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A farm not too far out of Taber kicks the normal trend of being a field harvested for profit as the Taber Food Bank vegetable garden has all of the products that it produces donated back to the community. Andy Puskas, one of the coordinators at the vegetable garden, explained what the garden was all about. He also explained the guns and hoses event that went on Aug. 30.
“We are going to have the Taber Police Service, the RCMP, the Town (of Taber) Fire Department, and the M.D. (of Taber) Fire Department all come to help harvest produce mainly corn,” said Puskas. “Then we have a regular group of volunteers on a rotation and we should have 60 people out there at the garden to harvest corn, carrots, beets, onions, zucchini, and whatever else is ready to go. I contacted all the first responders about a month ago and they were more than excited to come and help. They just had to organize how many people and who could make it.”
After this, Puskas gave a rough estimate of how many more harvests this garden will have for the year.
“(It will) be one more night of corn, we’re hoping by the end of September the garden will be done. It’s a little late this year, you know, we start the same time as usual but it was a cooler spring, and things didn’t germinate and come along as quickly, especially the corn. Usually, we’re starting to wind down now, but it will be mid to late September before the garden is done.”
Puskas also discussed the previous harvest that they had from the vegetable garden.
“We’ve been harvesting since mid-June. We started early, we started in April and May with asparagus,” said Puskas. “We were picking asparagus before we had the garden planted, and then the earlier crops come on like Swiss chard, lettuce, and green beans come on sooner. It’s mid to late June that we’re actually bringing product here to the food bank, and then the weight just gradually gets larger and larger as the carrots are ready, beats are ready, zucchini, pumpkin, and winter squash.”
Puskas spoke on why they grow the crops that they do and where all the produce harvested from this vegetable garden actually goes.
“This is the seventh season we’ve had the garden, and we have consulted with the food bank to see what it was that they could use because everything we use comes here, and then from here, distribute it out to other food banks,” said Puskas. “Last year, the produce went to 23 different agencies, including the food bank and Safe Haven here in town — those two in town, plus 20 others from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge, and as far north as Edmonton.”
Puskas then took a moment to actually discuss the history of this vegetable garden.
“The land is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — they had the idea to start this garden, so they provided all the infrastructure, the irrigation, the fencing and we got the garden going. We’ve certainly invited the community to come and help, and this is the seventh season. We just want to provide for those in need and especially fresh produce. We got a pretty short window that we bring product here, but they get fresh produce from mid-June, and then some of the product will last into October/November, like the pumpkins, the squash, and some things last a while until the fall. Just to provide nutritious food for those not only in Taber, like I say, from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge, and then north to Edmonton. Then the product that goes to Edmonton and Calgary, they spread out from there.”
Puskas discussed how much produce the vegetable garden was able to produce as of Aug. 26. Puskas explained the garden did fairly well in 2022 and they were happy with the produce pulled during harvest.
“Really good, we got about 1,000 service hours right now, and that starts from April till now, and we’ve harvested 2,319.5 pounds of produce. This week alone we should bring in 5,000 or 6,000 pounds with the corn, carrots, beets, and everything else.”
The vegetable garden managed to produce 15,320 pounds of produce last year with a total of 1,338 volunteered hours of service from the community. Finally, Puskas talked about if they would require more volunteer support with the vegetable garden this year.
“They could reach out to the food bank because they know our schedule,” said Puskas. “We’re there every Tuesday night at 6:30. There are a couple of weeks that we’re there on a Wednesday, but if they were to contact the food bank’ then they would know our work schedule. We’re always looking for more people to help. I explained where the garden comes from, but it’s a community garden, we want to get as many volunteers to come from businesses, individuals, churches, you know whatever to come and help at the garden. It’s a community effort, it’s a community bonding effort to provide for those who are in need.”
If interested in volunteering, you can call the Taber Food Bank at 403-223- 1833. Puskas also wanted to shout out to all the businesses that have shown their support for this vegetable garden by coming out and helping with harvest.
“You know, COVID kind of put a dent in getting businesses to come, but we have had Saunders Insurance, Johnson’s Pharmacy, Home Hardware, the clinic at the hospital, and the food bank general board has been here, and then the United Church — they were there a couple of years ago quite often. Taber Adult Learning has been there this year. It’s just about bringing community members to the garden to help. We work for about an hour/ hour and a half, or whatever. If people just want to come to see it we had an open house barbecue there a weekend ago. Especially now with the harvest getting heavier, any volunteers would be greatly appreciated.”