Project Let-Us plants roots for food security one tomato at a time

·4 min read

They say you can count the number of seeds in an apple but there’s no way to tell how many apples are in a seed. There is no disputing that, but the same can be said for the humble tomato seed.

While you can’t tell how many tomatoes might come from a seedling, with a little tender, loving care, you can help make it thrive – and here in Aurora, a handful of seedlings might just go a long way towards improving food security in the community.

Last week, visitors to Welcoming Arms, an ecumenical organization dedicated to lending a helping hand to residents in need, received dozens of tomato plants in the first phase of Project Let-Us, a community initiative designed to enable anyone to grow their own food at home while donating excess fruits and veggies to places like the Aurora Food Pantry to help ease food insecurity and get fresh food to more people.

The first phase of the project is, in conjunction with low-income outreach organizations, focused on container gardening to prove that you don’t need an expansive garden to grow your own food; sometimes all it takes is a container, some soil, and a sunny window.

“We know that through the pandemic there has been a large uptick in interest in gardening,” says project co-lead Kasie Colbeck. “At the same time, we fully know, as does everyone in Aurora, that although it is a very affluent community there are people who do suffer from food insecurity. Project Let-Us links it all together: if people are growing food, people need food and it’s fresh food, so why would we not come up with some sort of community initiative where people are going to do something they are going to do anyway, learn how to grow produce, learn the whole cycle of fresh, healthy food, and how can we tie that in to help support people who might not have access to healthy, fresh, delicious food?”

Adds co-lead Alison Collins-Mrakas: “The purpose of this is to spread the word, spread the seeds, germinate the idea of food-growing but also make it fully accessible so that anyone who wants to grow their own food can learn and do.”

In order to get the initiative off the ground, Project Let-Us has been spearheading a number of micro-pilots throughout Aurora. In addition to the tomato plants that have been distributed through Welcoming Arms’ Bridging the Gap program, students at St. Andrew’s College have been growing their own plants in their windows and tracking their progress. Recipients who picked up their plants at Welcoming Arms last week will also be tracking their progress through notebooks and photos.

“The whole point is we want data on what can actually be grown if you don’t have an outdoor space,” says Ms. Collins-Mrakas.

Following this first phase, there are three more steps before the dream of Project Let-Us becomes fully realized. The second phase will focus on purpose-built backyard garden plots, potentially with corporate sponsorship and municipal involvement, along with free gardening workshops and an expansion of more community groups receiving excess produce. The third phase will increase the involvement of local students so they can get their hands dirty in learning how seeds become food and the benefits of fresh food. The fourth and final phase of the project so far is the expansion of municipal community gardens to any appropriate municipal space – including rooftop container gardens, edible gardens in the Aurora Community Arboretum and even potentially Town-owned boulevards.

“Starting small with a tomato plant is really important,” says Ms. Collins-Mrakas. “This is a really important food resilience initiative. We recognize it is very small, but it will continue to grow and bloom. We want to demystify the process. If someone like me, who is accident prone and kills every poinsettia she gets, can grow food, anybody can.”

“The goal is for Aurora to be recognized as Canada’s healthiest community through initiatives that really support growing your own food and thinking of ways to bridge the gap where there are people who maybe don’t fully understand the importance of eating nutritiously and the cost-savings of growing your own food as well,” adds Ms. Colbeck. “The beauty of all this is bringing people together at a time when people have been so isolated from one another. It is finding common ground and therapy in gardening which is something that so many people haven’t done before. Anyone can do this. It is accessible to everyone and that is what we will be proving in the pilots.”

For more on Project Let-Us, visit their Facebook group.

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran

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