Salvation Army serves up UBC food harvest

by Bruce Mason
Staff writer

The Food Garden in UBC's Botanical Garden is the best place in town for local gardeners to learn what to produce in their own backyard. It's also a place of fascination for big-city kids who see for the first time what food looks like growing in the ground.

However, every Wednesday morning during Vancouver's long growing season is extra special. That's when a Salvation Army truck arrives to pick up a donation of mouth-watering, picture-perfect fresh fruit and vegetables.

"We couldn't afford to purchase produce of this quality," says Keith Coulter, manager of operations for the Salvation Army Harbour Light facility. "Everyone's face lights up when we serve it, particularly those people in addiction rehabilitation who need the nourishment most."

No one remembers exactly when UBC volunteers, the Friends of the Garden (FOGs), began donating food from the garden which was established in the mid-'70s. But last year Blanche Olejnik began to keep track.

"We donated over a ton of fruit and vegetables to the Salvation Army last year," says Olejnik, who worked as a dietician in Quebec for 40 years before relocating to the West Coast and joining more than 125 FOGs who tend to the myriad details of the Botanical Garden.

"We will exceed that this year because we are well above the average weekly harvest of 150 pounds," she reports as she carefully lifts a carton of raspberries from a set of scales.

Espaliered trees and a living, criss-crossed Belgian fence surround the Food Garden which is the size of six city lots. Raised beds contain a literal cornucopia of food, from the familiar to the exotic.

"We harvest from May to October," says horticulturalist Tony Maniezzo. "Everyone should drop by, especially people who work and study here and want to take a memorable break. However, we do get pretty busy Wednesday mornings."

The Food Garden is located near the newly restored Physick Garden, a short walk from the entrance to the Botanical Garden at 6804 S.W. Marine Drive.

The Botanical Garden is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. Admission to the garden is free to UBC students, children under six, hospital patients and the physically challenged, including a supervising adult. For all other students and seniors 65 and older, admission is $2.25. Admission for adults is $4.50.