Last year I surprised myself when I took a jump into the process of canning. It was an exciting and wonderful experience and since that time I thought long and hard about the reasons why I need to get myself more acquainted with this timeless way of preserving food. It all started with a garden but not just any garden. Although I would like to have my own garden one day it's simply not a reality for me so I did the next best thing.
I came across Jessy's Garden this time last summer when a friend told me about it; we drove out there, gathered our vegetables, and returned home where I turned crisp carrots, cucumbers, and beans into tangy, garlic and dill infused pickles. It was my first attempt. And they were delicious. The only missing links were my children. So this year I'm making it happen. This week my youngest children and I travelled out to Jessy's Garden - a community garden planted and maintained by Bonny and Mel Sanderson and a large crew of volunteers. The garden was planted in memory of their daughter, Jessy, and exists to honour Jessy's caring and giving nature of which her family is so proud. The heart and soul that is poured into this garden is evident as soon as you arrive.
The kids were a little hesitant at first as they have limited experience with gardening but I believe it is truly important they understand how food grows and where it comes from. We parked the car and Mel greeted us with a smile on his face. We jumped out of the car and were next greeted by Bonny who gracefully accompanied me and shared her story throughout our 3 hour experience.
First stop - the chicken coops. The kids were amazed and so was I to be honest. We learned about chicken behaviour and chicken food - so many giggles and questions danced in the air as Bonny let us pet, hold, and feed these curious little creatures. We learned that the farm produces many eggs which help to feed the family all year long. With a little TLC and some hard work, the chickens are kept warm over winter and live a very comfortable life even in one of the planet's harshest climates - yes, I still think about this past February.
The chickens were kind of a big deal until we arrived at the first garden where the children and I learned about "magic beans", and the Golden Girls, and prickly cucumbers. Bonny gave us all a lesson on the types of produce we would find in this area. Everything is organic and pesticide free which made it easy to pinch off a bean or two and enjoy the taste of it right there. At one point we were visited by a dragonfly which happened to land on my leg. I let it climb up on to my hand where the kids immediately wanted to try holding it themselves. Bonny left us for a moment to enjoy the experience and pick as many beans, squash, peas, and cucumbers as we wanted.
We stumbled upon the kohlrabi which were larger than any I've ever seen and we learned at this stage they are far too woody to eat; however, it happens to be a favourite among our feathered friends so back to the chickens we went. Bonny let the little ones feed the chickens which was such a wonderful experience for them. At this point I was thinking about having my own chicken coop in the city (or possibly at my store) but then quickly thought about my hubby and my neighbours who would likely disapprove. Am I wrong? Because if I'm not let's get a chicken operation going.
A few steps away were a couple of dog kennels which were an important part of my children's overall experience as they love dogs - and there are several big dogs who call this home. The kids had more questions and learned a bit about each dog and were able to gather a few (big) tender puppy dog kisses. As we embarked on our way to the other garden a summer shower fell upon us very quickly and we raced into Bear Lodge - a cozy little build where Mel and Bonny offer even more hospitality for moments like these. While the rain stopped me a bit, it really didn't phase the kids as they decided they were better off getting wet! And although the rain sprinkled on us every so often I also decided the show must go on and set my sights on that enormous garden where rows upon rows of cabbage, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, onions, beets, and strawberries offered their abundance. Bonny took time to tell me her story about her daughter who so tragically passed in 2008. The story telling and connection we made was a truly beautiful part of my own experience at the garden where Bonny also taught me about gooseberries (wow!) and the proper way to gather and process dill.
I gathered enough vegetables to last our family a good amount of time and I eagerly look forward to showing my little learners how to pickle and preserve those carrots and beans from start to finish. This year we will do even more salsa and try our hands at antipasto! We brought home a little over 40 pounds of fresh produce - the taste just can't be beet - and at $1/pound, the price can't be either. Bonny and Mel rely on the support of their many wonderful volunteers to help them with harvesting and dispersing their crops. This genuinely thoughtful couple donate so much food to those in our community who may not have the means to provide for themselves; this is something their daughter believed in and why they have chosen to grow and share this garden in her memory.
Overall, this experience is one of the most memorable I've had all summer. Heart warming and soul filling for all of us. I can't express enough gratitude for what the Sanderson's do for our community. The gift they provide is a labour of love and we are so fortunate to have accessibility to such a remarkable place. If you're looking for a wonderful afternoon retreat with your own children, an option to harvest some fresh veggies if you don't have your own garden, or if you're looking to volunteer your time to benefit a beautiful cause, I highly recommend Jessy's Garden as an option. As our afternoon came to a close, we were lucky enough to witness a perfect rainbow; such a magical moment to wrap up the day. Each of my kids also received a treat bag as a departing gift. My heartfelt thanks to both of you, Bonny and Mel. You are amazing people who inspire me to live better and work harder. I believe my children will never forget the day and I do hope we will enjoy talking about it years down the road.