Standing in front of two scarecrows dubbed Sonny and Wilhemina, Vic Ratzlaff reached down to scoop up a handful of newly broken dirt and held on tight.
About 60 other green thumbs and supporters of Start Me Up Niagara, a local social agency that helps people who are homeless and coping with mental issues, followed suit, bowing their heads as Ratzlaff, a pastor and farmer, asked the powers that be Thursday to let the soil at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre be fruitful.
And so began Start Me Up’s foray into its latest fresh food project. The agency plans to grow vegetables on 1.25 acres of land donated by the research station, complementing the fruit-picking it does in the station’s bountiful orchards.
Start Me Up’s vegetable crop will be harvested from 3,000 plants donated by Jeffrey’s Greenhouse in Vineland and Eating Niagara’s very own Linda Crago. Executive director Susan Venditti said the agency is trying to sprout its own food supply for a reason that is all too common among food banks, soup kitchens and meal programs like Start Me Up’s. The food they provide is calorie-rich, but not fresh.
What Start Me Up can’t use from the garden in its meal program, it will sell, Venditti said.
While the garden will feed people physically, Ratzlaff said experiencing the joy of this type of community venture will feed people emotionally and spiritually.
A crew of clients, volunteers and Start Me Up staff spent the rest of Thursday planting and will continue the work Friday, using gardening tools galore donated by Bruce Zimmerman, host of the Open-Line Garden radio show.
Though the project is already taking root, Start Me Up Niagara is still looking for volunteers to help with the garden. They are also seeking donations of medicinal herbs to grow.
Interested green thumbs and good Samaritans can call 905-984-5310 for more information or to help out.