Food for Thought

30 Day Food Challenge

Eat real, eat local, says Robin Rivers, head of Comox Valley web site OurBigEarth.com.

With 40 prospective employees currently enrolled in the Community Employment Service, there’s a huge variety of creative opportunities available to employers. Since many of these job seekers only want to work a couple of hours a day, job carving can also involve hiring an employee for peak business hours to assist with duties that otherwise get neglected in the rush.

Such is the case with Kerri Denniger, a café assistant at Starbucks who was hired a year and a half ago to help keep the store clean and tidy during peak afternoon hours twice a week. For Denniger, who’d just graduated from high school and wanted more than anything to have a “real job with real pay,” her job at Starbucks was a tremendous confidence booster. The income she earns allows her to go on trips like a recent vacation to Disneyland and, just last month, a trip to Abbotsford to compete in the Special Olympics provincial swimming championships. (Denniger returned with a gold medal for the backstroke, plus two silvers and a bronze.)

To Starbucks’ benefit, Denniger has become one of the store’s most valuable and dependable employees. In fact, the store manager has already given her two raises and is practically begging her to take on more hours.

Gibson is quick to acknowledge other local businesses that have realized the benefits of working with the Supported Employment Service, including Safeway, Coastal Community Credit Union and the Home Depot. The Home Depot, for example, currently has two VICC-supported employees working at its Comox Valley store, one of which has been promoted to the point that he is now responsible for part of the training of new hires.

Gibson and her colleagues are currently organizing a promotional campaign to spotlight employers working with the program, the details of which they expect to announce later this summer. In addition, Gibson has made it her own personal mission to reform what she views as a bias against people with disabilities that’s ingrained into the language of our society.

When you say ‘disabilities’ with some employers you can see them shut down as you’re talking. But if you just switch that wording to ‘diverse abilities,’ usually you get a confused look but at least they’re not shutting down.”

Hopefully we can all work toward a society without labels, as well as increased opportunities for British Columbians of all diverse abilities. Vancouver Island Community Connections has dozens of valuable employees looking for work, and dozens of innovative opportunities for progressive employers to increase their productivity.

Common Myths about Hiring Employees with Disabilities

Myth: Hiring an employee with disabilities will inevitably lead to a WorkSafe BC claim.

Fact: There is no statistical evidence that people with disabilities have a higher rate of workplace accidents. Most employees with disabilities have had the importance of safety ingrained in them since childhood, and studies have shown they are generally more safety conscious than most employees.

Myth: If I hire an employee with a disability through VICC, I won’t be able to fire them if it doesn’t work out.

Fact: Supported Work Program employees have the same rights and responsibilities as all other employees. They’re entitled to the employer’s standard probationary period, and if things don’t work out they can be terminated like any other employee.

Myth: Employees with disabilities have a higher rate of absenteeism.

Fact: Studies continually show that, on average, employees with disabilities have better attendance than most employees. Often they are just happy to have the job and remain dedicated.

Myth: Employees with disabilities are unable to meet performance standards.

Fact: A study of 2,745 workers found that 92% of employees with disabilities scored average or better in job performance, compared to 90% of employees without.

FMI call 250-338-7201.
Or, go online to www.vicc.cc
What do you do for a living?” This one simple and ubiquitous question embodies the enormous value that our society places on employment. Yet for Ken Davidson, pill
and others like him with developmental disabilities, ed
it was a question without an answer.

That was until two years ago, when Davidson discovered Vancouver Island Community Connections (VICC), a Courtenay-based organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities find meaningful employment in the Comox Valley. Thanks to the training and support he received through VICC’s Community Employment Service, Davidson landed a job as a customer service clerk at Safeway, where he’s been employed ever since.

“It’s been really good,” says Davidson of his experience with VICC. “I got lots of help and lots of guidance. Having a job is really neat because I’m able to meet the public more and know exactly what the public’s thinking.”

To the majority of us who grumble over the obligation of going to work day after day, who complain that work is a necessary evil in our otherwise carefree lives, it’s easy to forget just how important working is to our quality of life and to our sense of identity.

But to the 360,000 British Columbian adults with disabilities, many of whom receive no income other than a meagre Persons With Disabilities Benefit of about $900 a month, it’s everything.

“That’s a pretty low number if you’re trying to live off it,” says Lesley Gibson, VICC’s director. “The money is important, but even more important than that is being seen as a valuable member of society.

“Almost everybody works,” she explains. “It’s an expectation of our society. People want to work and feel the benefits of self respect and respect from others.”

In principle at least, VICC’s Community Employment Service is simple. First, an adult with a developmental disability gets a referral from Community Living BC to access the service. That person then meets with one of VICC’s job coaches and embarks upon a “discovery process”—essentially finding out the employee’s areas of interest and expertise, from which he or she can then be matched with a local employer.

The coach learns the duties and responsibilities of an available position through job shadowing, and then trains the new employee for the job. Since this training comes at no expense to the employer, the result is a win-win. The employee benefits from a much-needed source of income, as well as a heightened sense of self esteem, and the employer gains a dedicated worker without the expense of training.

Plus, because the employee is able to access VICC’s services for up to three years, there is plenty of opportunity for skill improvement or re-training for additional responsibilities, once again at no cost to the employer.

While Gibson says that her organization strives to make the process as beneficial as possible for employers, and she acknowledges that participating employers often benefit from positive community goodwill, she makes one point very clear: This isn’t charity.

“Employers tell us that employees accessing our service tend to be dedicated, long-term workers who are devoted to their jobs,” she says. “I’d say that 90 per cent of them stay employed once the service ends. If I were a business with a high staff turnover rate, I’d be looking for people with disabilities to join my team.”

Unfortunately, however, most employers aren’t as open-minded or as far-sighted as Gibson. In fact, VICC’s job coaches spend the vast majority of their time simply looking for jobs and trying to educate employers “When businesses use policies and procedures like that they’re actually just being discriminatory,” she says. “They’re not thinking at all, and they’re missing out on opportunities to save themselves money.”

Only one out of about every 20 businesses approached agrees to participate in the Community Employment Service, and sometimes only after multiple time-consuming meetings and phone calls. With one employer who eventually did participate, the process took more than a year to complete as the decision had to be approved by every layer of a multi-tiered corporate structure.

If inflexible policies are the recurring obstacles to VICC’s job-finding efforts, then myths and misconceptions that abound about people with disabilities are the ongoing frustration that meets them at every turn. Gibson and her staff have heard them all, from assertions that employees with disabilities aren’t able to meet performance standards (they are) to fears that an employer won’t be able to fire an employee with a disability should the employment not work out (it can).

By far the most pressing concern to would-be employers, and the most widespread misconception, Gibson says, is that hiring an employee with a disability will inevitably lead to a workplace accident and a WorkSafe BC claim.

“I don’t think I’ve ever not addressed that one,” she says. “There’s absolutely no statistical evidence that hiring people with disabilities leads to a higher rate of WorkSafe BC claims. It’s actually less, because these employees are so focused and they’re very conscientious.”

VICC’s job coaches have developed a number of creative strategies to help them find jobs, not the least of which is a technique they call “job carving.” Job carving is essentially removing one or several small components out of an existing position and offering just that portion of the work to an employee with a disability. When done correctly, job carving can often result in increased productivity and efficiency, as well as higher employee morale right down the line.

“Maybe there’s a job that doesn’t get done, it’s left at the end of the day and everyone sort of has to do it,” explains Gibson. “Well, if someone came in and just did that job for two hours, then they wouldn’t have to worry about whether it’s getting done or not.”

With 40 prospective employees currently enrolled in the Community Employment Service, there’s a huge variety of creative opportunities available to employers. Since many of these job seekers only want to work a couple of hours a day, job carving can also involve hiring an employee for peak business hours to assist with duties that otherwise get neglected in the rush.

Such is the case with Kerri Denniger, a café assistant at Starbucks who was hired a year and a half ago to help keep the store clean and tidy during peak afternoon hours twice a week. For Denniger, who’d just graduated from high school and wanted more than anything to have a “real job with real pay,” her job at Starbucks was a tremendous confidence booster. The income she earns allows her to go on trips like a recent vacation to Disneyland and, just last month, a trip to Abbotsford to compete in the Special Olympics provincial swimming championships. (Denniger returned with a gold medal for the backstroke, plus two silvers and a bronze.)

To Starbucks’ benefit, Denniger has become one of the store’s most valuable and dependable employees. In fact, the store manager has already given her two raises and is practically begging her to take on more hours.

Gibson is quick to acknowledge other local businesses that have realized the benefits of working with the Supported Employment Service, including Safeway, Coastal Community Credit Union and the Home Depot. The Home Depot, for example, currently has two VICC-supported employees working at its Comox Valley store, one of which has been promoted to the point that he is now responsible for part of the training of new hires.

Gibson and her colleagues are currently organizing a promotional campaign to spotlight employers working with the program, the details of which they expect to announce later this summer. In addition, Gibson has made it her own personal mission to reform what she views as a bias against people with disabilities that’s ingrained into the language of our society.

When you say ‘disabilities’ with some employers you can see them shut down as you’re talking. But if you just switch that wording to ‘diverse abilities,’ usually you get a confused look but at least they’re not shutting down.”

Hopefully we can all work toward a society without labels, as well as increased opportunities for British Columbians of all diverse abilities. Vancouver Island Community Connections has dozens of valuable employees looking for work, and dozens of innovative opportunities for progressive employers to increase their productivity.

FMI call 250-338-7201.
Or, go online to www.vicc.cc
What do you do for a living?” This one simple and ubiquitous question embodies the enormous value that our society places on employment. Yet for Ken Davidson, medical
and others like him with developmental disabilities, pills
it was a question without an answer.

That was until two years ago, case
when Davidson discovered Vancouver Island Community Connections (VICC), a Courtenay-based organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities find meaningful employment in the Comox Valley. Thanks to the training and support he received through VICC’s Community Employment Service, Davidson landed a job as a customer service clerk at Safeway, where he’s been employed ever since.

“It’s been really good,” says Davidson of his experience with VICC. “I got lots of help and lots of guidance. Having a job is really neat because I’m able to meet the public more and know exactly what the public’s thinking.”

To the majority of us who grumble over the obligation of going to work day after day, who complain that work is a necessary evil in our otherwise carefree lives, it’s easy to forget just how important working is to our quality of life and to our sense of identity.

But to the 360,000 British Columbian adults with disabilities, many of whom receive no income other than a meagre Persons With Disabilities Benefit of about $900 a month, it’s everything.

“That’s a pretty low number if you’re trying to live off it,” says Lesley Gibson, VICC’s director. “The money is important, but even more important than that is being seen as a valuable member of society.

“Almost everybody works,” she explains. “It’s an expectation of our society. People want to work and feel the benefits of self respect and respect from others.”

In principle at least, VICC’s Community Employment Service is simple. First, an adult with a developmental disability gets a referral from Community Living BC to access the service. That person then meets with one of VICC’s job coaches and embarks upon a “discovery process”—essentially finding out the employee’s areas of interest and expertise, from which he or she can then be matched with a local employer.

The coach learns the duties and responsibilities of an available position through job shadowing, and then trains the new employee for the job. Since this training comes at no expense to the employer, the result is a win-win. The employee benefits from a much-needed source of income, as well as a heightened sense of self esteem, and the employer gains a dedicated worker without the expense of training.

Plus, because the employee is able to access VICC’s services for up to three years, there is plenty of opportunity for skill improvement or re-training for additional responsibilities, once again at no cost to the employer.

While Gibson says that her organization strives to make the process as beneficial as possible for employers, and she acknowledges that participating employers often benefit from positive community goodwill, she makes one point very clear: This isn’t charity.

“Employers tell us that employees accessing our service tend to be dedicated, long-term workers who are devoted to their jobs,” she says. “I’d say that 90 per cent of them stay employed once the service ends. If I were a business with a high staff turnover rate, I’d be looking for people with disabilities to join my team.”

Unfortunately, however, most employers aren’t as open-minded or as far-sighted as Gibson. In fact, VICC’s job coaches spend the vast majority of their time simply looking for jobs and trying to educate employers “When businesses use policies and procedures like that they’re actually just being discriminatory,” she says. “They’re not thinking at all, and they’re missing out on opportunities to save themselves money.”

Only one out of about every 20 businesses approached agrees to participate in the Community Employment Service, and sometimes only after multiple time-consuming meetings and phone calls. With one employer who eventually did participate, the process took more than a year to complete as the decision had to be approved by every layer of a multi-tiered corporate structure.

If inflexible policies are the recurring obstacles to VICC’s job-finding efforts, then myths and misconceptions that abound about people with disabilities are the ongoing frustration that meets them at every turn. Gibson and her staff have heard them all, from assertions that employees with disabilities aren’t able to meet performance standards (they are) to fears that an employer won’t be able to fire an employee with a disability should the employment not work out (it can).

By far the most pressing concern to would-be employers, and the most widespread misconception, Gibson says, is that hiring an employee with a disability will inevitably lead to a workplace accident and a WorkSafe BC claim.

“I don’t think I’ve ever not addressed that one,” she says. “There’s absolutely no statistical evidence that hiring people with disabilities leads to a higher rate of WorkSafe BC claims. It’s actually less, because these employees are so focused and they’re very conscientious.”

VICC’s job coaches have developed a number of creative strategies to help them find jobs, not the least of which is a technique they call “job carving.” Job carving is essentially removing one or several small components out of an existing position and offering just that portion of the work to an employee with a disability. When done correctly, job carving can often result in increased productivity and efficiency, as well as higher employee morale right down the line.

“Maybe there’s a job that doesn’t get done, it’s left at the end of the day and everyone sort of has to do it,” explains Gibson. “Well, if someone came in and just did that job for two hours, then they wouldn’t have to worry about whether it’s getting done or not.”

With 40 prospective employees currently enrolled in the Community Employment Service, there’s a huge variety of creative opportunities available to employers. Since many of these job seekers only want to work a couple of hours a day, job carving can also involve hiring an employee for peak business hours to assist with duties that otherwise get neglected in the rush.

Such is the case with Kerri Denniger, a café assistant at Starbucks who was hired a year and a half ago to help keep the store clean and tidy during peak afternoon hours twice a week. For Denniger, who’d just graduated from high school and wanted more than anything to have a “real job with real pay,” her job at Starbucks was a tremendous confidence booster. The income she earns allows her to go on trips like a recent vacation to Disneyland and, just last month, a trip to Abbotsford to compete in the Special Olympics provincial swimming championships. (Denniger returned with a gold medal for the backstroke, plus two silvers and a bronze.)

To Starbucks’ benefit, Denniger has become one of the store’s most valuable and dependable employees. In fact, the store manager has already given her two raises and is practically begging her to take on more hours.

Gibson is quick to acknowledge other local businesses that have realized the benefits of working with the Supported Employment Service, including Safeway, Coastal Community Credit Union and the Home Depot. The Home Depot, for example, currently has two VICC-supported employees working at its Comox Valley store, one of which has been promoted to the point that he is now responsible for part of the training of new hires.

Gibson and her colleagues are currently organizing a promotional campaign to spotlight employers working with the program, the details of which they expect to announce later this summer. In addition, Gibson has made it her own personal mission to reform what she views as a bias against people with disabilities that’s ingrained into the language of our society.

When you say ‘disabilities’ with some employers you can see them shut down as you’re talking. But if you just switch that wording to ‘diverse abilities,’ usually you get a confused look but at least they’re not shutting down.”

Hopefully we can all work toward a society without labels, as well as increased opportunities for British Columbians of all diverse abilities. Vancouver Island Community Connections has dozens of valuable employees looking for work, and dozens of innovative opportunities for progressive employers to increase their productivity.

FMI call 250-338-7201.
Or, go online to www.vicc.cc
What do you do for a living?” This one simple and ubiquitous question embodies the enormous value that our society places on employment. Yet for Ken Davidson, steroids
and others like him with developmental disabilities, more about
it was a question without an answer.

That was until two years ago, when Davidson discovered Vancouver Island Community Connections (VICC), a Courtenay-based organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities find meaningful employment in the Comox Valley. Thanks to the training and support he received through VICC’s Community Employment Service, Davidson landed a job as a customer service clerk at Safeway, where he’s been employed ever since.

“It’s been really good,” says Davidson of his experience with VICC. “I got lots of help and lots of guidance. Having a job is really neat because I’m able to meet the public more and know exactly what the public’s thinking.”

To the majority of us who grumble over the obligation of going to work day after day, who complain that work is a necessary evil in our otherwise carefree lives, it’s easy to forget just how important working is to our quality of life and to our sense of identity.

But to the 360,000 British Columbian adults with disabilities, many of whom receive no income other than a meagre Persons With Disabilities Benefit of about $900 a month, it’s everything.

“That’s a pretty low number if you’re trying to live off it,” says Lesley Gibson, VICC’s director. “The money is important, but even more important than that is being seen as a valuable member of society.

“Almost everybody works,” she explains. “It’s an expectation of our society. People want to work and feel the benefits of self respect and respect from others.”

In principle at least, VICC’s Community Employment Service is simple. First, an adult with a developmental disability gets a referral from Community Living BC to access the service. That person then meets with one of VICC’s job coaches and embarks upon a “discovery process”—essentially finding out the employee’s areas of interest and expertise, from which he or she can then be matched with a local employer.

The coach learns the duties and responsibilities of an available position through job shadowing, and then trains the new employee for the job. Since this training comes at no expense to the employer, the result is a win-win. The employee benefits from a much-needed source of income, as well as a heightened sense of self esteem, and the employer gains a dedicated worker without the expense of training.

Plus, because the employee is able to access VICC’s services for up to three years, there is plenty of opportunity for skill improvement or re-training for additional responsibilities, once again at no cost to the employer.

While Gibson says that her organization strives to make the process as beneficial as possible for employers, and she acknowledges that participating employers often benefit from positive community goodwill, she makes one point very clear: This isn’t charity.

“Employers tell us that employees accessing our service tend to be dedicated, long-term workers who are devoted to their jobs,” she says. “I’d say that 90 per cent of them stay employed once the service ends. If I were a business with a high staff turnover rate, I’d be looking for people with disabilities to join my team.”

Unfortunately, however, most employers aren’t as open-minded or as far-sighted as Gibson. In fact, VICC’s job coaches spend the vast majority of their time simply looking for jobs and trying to educate employers “When businesses use policies and procedures like that they’re actually just being discriminatory,” she says. “They’re not thinking at all, and they’re missing out on opportunities to save themselves money.”

Only one out of about every 20 businesses approached agrees to participate in the Community Employment Service, and sometimes only after multiple time-consuming meetings and phone calls. With one employer who eventually did participate, the process took more than a year to complete as the decision had to be approved by every layer of a multi-tiered corporate structure.

If inflexible policies are the recurring obstacles to VICC’s job-finding efforts, then myths and misconceptions that abound about people with disabilities are the ongoing frustration that meets them at every turn. Gibson and her staff have heard them all, from assertions that employees with disabilities aren’t able to meet performance standards (they are) to fears that an employer won’t be able to fire an employee with a disability should the employment not work out (it can).

By far the most pressing concern to would-be employers, and the most widespread misconception, Gibson says, is that hiring an employee with a disability will inevitably lead to a workplace accident and a WorkSafe BC claim.

“I don’t think I’ve ever not addressed that one,” she says. “There’s absolutely no statistical evidence that hiring people with disabilities leads to a higher rate of WorkSafe BC claims. It’s actually less, because these employees are so focused and they’re very conscientious.”

VICC’s job coaches have developed a number of creative strategies to help them find jobs, not the least of which is a technique they call “job carving.” Job carving is essentially removing one or several small components out of an existing position and offering just that portion of the work to an employee with a disability. When done correctly, job carving can often result in increased productivity and efficiency, as well as higher employee morale right down the line.

“Maybe there’s a job that doesn’t get done, it’s left at the end of the day and everyone sort of has to do it,” explains Gibson. “Well, if someone came in and just did that job for two hours, then they wouldn’t have to worry about whether it’s getting done or not.”

With 40 prospective employees currently enrolled in the Community Employment Service, there’s a huge variety of creative opportunities available to employers. Since many of these job seekers only want to work a couple of hours a day, job carving can also involve hiring an employee for peak business hours to assist with duties that otherwise get neglected in the rush.

Such is the case with Kerri Denniger, a café assistant at Starbucks who was hired a year and a half ago to help keep the store clean and tidy during peak afternoon hours twice a week. For Denniger, who’d just graduated from high school and wanted more than anything to have a “real job with real pay,” her job at Starbucks was a tremendous confidence booster. The income she earns allows her to go on trips like a recent vacation to Disneyland and, just last month, a trip to Abbotsford to compete in the Special Olympics provincial swimming championships. (Denniger returned with a gold medal for the backstroke, plus two silvers and a bronze.)

To Starbucks’ benefit, Denniger has become one of the store’s most valuable and dependable employees. In fact, the store manager has already given her two raises and is practically begging her to take on more hours.

Gibson is quick to acknowledge other local businesses that have realized the benefits of working with the Supported Employment Service, including Safeway, Coastal Community Credit Union and the Home Depot. The Home Depot, for example, currently has two VICC-supported employees working at its Comox Valley store, one of which has been promoted to the point that he is now responsible for part of the training of new hires.

Gibson and her colleagues are currently organizing a promotional campaign to spotlight employers working with the program, the details of which they expect to announce later this summer. In addition, Gibson has made it her own personal mission to reform what she views as a bias against people with disabilities that’s ingrained into the language of our society.

When you say ‘disabilities’ with some employers you can see them shut down as you’re talking. But if you just switch that wording to ‘diverse abilities,’ usually you get a confused look but at least they’re not shutting down.”

Hopefully we can all work toward a society without labels, as well as increased opportunities for British Columbians of all diverse abilities. Vancouver Island Community Connections has dozens of valuable employees looking for work, and dozens of innovative opportunities for progressive employers to increase their productivity.

Common Myths about Hiring Employees with Disabilities

Myth: Hiring an employee with disabilities will inevitably lead to a WorkSafe BC claim.

Fact: There is no statistical evidence that people with disabilities have a higher rate of workplace accidents. Most employees with disabilities have had the importance of safety ingrained in them since childhood, and studies have shown they are generally more safety conscious than most employees.

Myth: If I hire an employee with a disability through VICC, I won’t be able to fire them if it doesn’t work out.

Fact: Supported Work Program employees have the same rights and responsibilities as all other employees. They’re entitled to the employer’s standard probationary period, and if things don’t work out they can be terminated like any other employee.

Myth: Employees with disabilities have a higher rate of absenteeism.

Fact: Studies continually show that, on average, employees with disabilities have better attendance than most employees. Often they are just happy to have the job and remain dedicated.

Myth: Employees with disabilities are unable to meet performance standards.

Fact: A study of 2,745 workers found that 92% of employees with disabilities scored average or better in job performance, compared to 90% of employees without.

FMI call 250-338-7201.
Or, go online to www.vicc.cc
Landscape designer Helena Hartwood is on is on a mission to introduce edible landscaping to everyone.  With food security now a global issue, she says, people need to realign their attitudes and think about food—not just lawns and flowers—for their own yards.

Helena Hartwood is no ordinary landscape designer. When it comes to gardening, this Comox Valley master gardener and owner of Hartwood Garden Designs looks at vegetation in a different way.  She strives to achieve varying heights, textures and colors by incorporating vegetables and fruit-producing shrubs, vines, hedgerows and trees.  She calls it “edible landscaping.”

For Hartwood, landscaping in the new millennium needs to both look and taste good.  With food security now a global issue, people need to realign their attitudes and think food, not just lawns and flowers for their own yards, believes Hartwood. The time is ripe for the “slow food” generation to take root.

Hartwood’s love of gardening was fostered during many years working summers at her grandparents’ Niagara-on-the-Lake orchards.  Although she considered becoming a landscape architect as a young woman, she was more interested in the softer side of landscaping, like planting vegetables and pruning fruit trees. So instead, she obtained an Arts degree from a Welsh university, specializing in stained glass designs.  Her arts background now serves her well as a landscape designer.

In 2007, Hartwood attended a landscape design course at Vancouver Island University.  Her eyes ignite with enthusiasm when she recalls that first day.

“Within the first hour I knew this is what I was meant to do,” Hartwood says.  “It was like an epiphany for me.  I suddenly realized that I could make designing edible landscaping a career.”

Now, as a master gardener, Hartwood is on a mission to introduce edible landscaping to everyone.  She spends one day a week offering advice at Anderton Nursery in Comox.  The rest of her time is spent doing garden consultations, workshops and garden tours in the Comox Valley, as well as Campbell River.

“My days are spent going through gardens with homeowners.  I help them identify existing vegetation and then advise them on pruning, feeding and weeding, so they can do the work themselves.  And I do regular garden maintenance on a contractual basis,” says Hartwood.  “I work mostly on my own but hire excavators and arborists, for example, for really big jobs.”

When designing edible landscapes, Hartwood combines various types of vegetables with edible flowers to create garden beds and containers that are esthetically pleasing, easy to care for and productive. Corn, sunflowers and pole beans, for example, provide height.  Swiss chard and fancy lettuce add color.  Parsley, basil and other herbs can add beautiful texture and fullness.  Amongst it all, nasturtiums and other edible flowers can provide variety and an added splash of color.  Various types of vegetables and flowers can even be planted to help pollinate and control garden pests, eliminating the need for harsh chemicals.

For arbors and fences, Hartwood incorporates kiwi, grape and hops vines.  Strawberries cascade down from hanging baskets—well out of reach of pesky rabbits.  Hedges can be comprised of blueberry, gooseberry and hazelnut shrubs.

Hartwood loves nothing better than spending time under the canopy of an apple tree, showing someone how to properly prune their trees and, in doing so, foster a sense of pride and accomplishment when they are blessed with a bountiful harvest.  But with families smaller than they were 50 years ago, and with fewer people knowing how to preserve fruit and produce for the winter, helping people cope with, quite literally, the fruits of their labor, led Hartwood to an organization called the LUSH Valley Food Action Society. (LUSH stands for “Let Us Share the Harvest.”)  She now serves on their board of directors.

“LUSH Valley is an amazing non-profit organization that has been working to ensure ‘food security’ for people in the Comox Valley since 1999,” explains Hartwood.  “I am involved with the harvest-sharing Fruit Tree Project.  LUSH Valley works with people from Fanny Bay to Black Creek who have fruit trees but are not utilizing the harvest.  This includes [but is not limited to] cherries, plums, apples, pears, kiwis, figs, hazelnuts, walnuts, quince and grapes. We bring in teams of volunteers to pick the fruit and then divvy up the crop into thirds, which are then distributed to the tree owner, the volunteers and LUSH Valley.  Our portion is then given, free of charge, to various soup kitchens and other social food programs in the Valley.  In the near future, LUSH plans to start selling some value added produce to the public, from their office and warehouse on Piercy Avenue, to help raise money to fund operations.”

During the 2008 harvest season, LUSH Valley volunteers picked more than 16,000 pounds of fruit.

This year, they have has set a goal to double that amount.  Close to 75 people have already registered to help pick the fruit, and more are welcome to come forward.  Many have volunteered as a humanitarian gesture, because they just want to help.  Some, however, are doing so because they need this food.

While the Fruit Tree Project is an integral part of LUSH Valley’s work in the community, adds volunteer president and acting executive director, Betty-Anne Juba, the association is active on many fronts.

LUSH Valley also has three large vegetable garden plots under cultivation in the Comox Valley—on property donated for use by area landowners. The gardens are cared for by participants of a provincial and federal government-sponsored job creation program.  They are learning marketable job skills, as well as helping grow food to distribute to local agencies working with the impoverished.

Juba dreams of the day they can add protein to their grocery supply list.  “Just imagine how much more nutritional value we could offer with donations of eggs, milk, meat and other protein-based perishables,” Juba says.  For that to materialize, however, cash donations to help purchase walk-in refrigeration/freezer units are desperately needed. Use of more garden space and a greenhouse or two, to be able to grow food year round, are also high on LUSH Valley’s “Dream Donations” list.