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Community Harvest Days help bring fresh produce to those who are food insecure

'It's not about food, it's about the engagement and what food can do for people,' said Gavin Dandy, director of The SEED

Since community harvest days began back in June, volunteers have pulled about 30,000 lbs. of vegetables from the ground.

At this rate, they are on track to collect 100,000 lbs. of produce for residents in Guelph and Wellington County, said the executive director and co-founder of The SEED, Gavin Dandy.

“A lot of the 30,000 pounds is stuff like spinach, lettuce and the types of crops that don’t weigh a lot,” said Dandy. “But now that were in the crops that are exclusively heavy crops, like carrots and potatoes. We can harvest a lot more pounds per days now,"

Started in 2019, Community Harvest Days is a collaboration between The SEED, Everdale teaching farm near Hillsburgh and other community partners. The idea came from another initiative between Everdale and The SEED called the Guelph Youth Farm, which teaches youth agricultural skills while cultivating food to help those in need of fresh food.

“Through that, the idea involved not only growing food at Guelph Youth Farm, but actually growing it at Everdale farm, which grows food at a larger scale," said Dandy.

This year for community harvest days, all the produce for the program is grown at Bella Farm, which is located within Erin Township. In 2020, over 200 volunteers came out to harvest 70,450 lbs. of food.

During a four-hour volunteer shift, residents harvest vegetables for three hours, and end the shift with a one hour social. Volunteers do not need to have prior experience to apply and even children are welcome to participate in the event. 

"It's really fun," said Dandy about the program. "People come out because they want to help, but people who are harvesting for the first time, don't know it is."

This year, Dandy said they've had 'tremendous participation' and "great turnouts." He adds volunteers consistently expressed their gratitude for being involved in the project, which is something Dandy hopes these events will help instill in volunteers.

"It's not about food, it's about the engagement and what food can do for people," said Dandy. "It connects use to each other and to the community."

There are thousands of residents across Guelph and Wellington County who don't have access to nutritious food, said Dandy.

"It's already a big problem for our community pre-COVID and it's only getting worse," he said, pointing out that government programs that support people's incomes are also coming to an end.

With community harvest days, Dandy mentions they are one piece of the puzzle to help make these communities food secure.

“It also feels like we’re onto a good things and we can do more good work like this within the coming years, and becomes a piece in the puzzle in how we make our community food secure," said Dandy. "and working to do that and I think these community harvest days and the partnership between Everdale and The SEED is a part of that.”

However, there's only a couple weeks of community harvest days left before it will be too cold to harvest. After rain cancelled a few days in the program causing a slow down in production, Dandy said they are looking for more volunteers to lend a hand.

"We want to encourage a little bump in volunteers," he said. "In the coming few weeks because there is still, as we like to say, 'There's still some food in the ground,' and we want to make sure all of it gets harvested."