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Get vegetable seedlings for free in Victoria, BC

The Canadian city is distributing 75,000 seedlings to promote food security among residents.

The city of Victoria, British Columbia, is known for its stunning flower gardens. The mild Pacific coast weather allows for magnificent blooms almost all year round, hence its nickname “The Garden City”, or flower capital of Canada. This year, however, the city has changed its usual growing routine. Because of the pandemic, greenhouse staff were directed early this spring to grow more vegetable seedlings, which are now being distributed throughout the community to anyone who wants to start growing their own food.

From the CBC: “Councillors said it was the first time since the Second World War that municipal efforts had been diverted to food production.” The goal is to promote food security at a time when many people are facing shrinking budgets, rising food costs, and grocery store shortages – a contemporary version of the Victory Gardens that so many people were urged to plant in the 1940s.

Priority is given to people who have been “disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and want to grow food at home, but that may be facing barriers to access to food plants and garden materials, or are facing barriers to access fresh, locally grown food.” The city's website says this could include (but is not limited to) newly unemployed, Indigenous, immuno-compromised, disabled, and senior citizens, as well as at-risk youth, families in need, and people who self-identify as food insecure. Families with children in Victoria's school board are also eligible for plants, along with educational materials – an interesting form of homeschooling.

So far 75,000 vegetable and herb seedlings have been raised. There are 17 varieties in total, such as cucumbers, zucchini, squash, cabbage, broccoli, cabbage, mustard greens, chard, kale, basil, tomatoes, parsley, and lettuce. All are considered easy for novice gardeners and appropriate for a range of planting locations, from backyard garden beds to balcony pots. Seeds were sourced locally, from farmers on South Vancouver Island and the BC Eco Seed Co-op.

From May 25 till June 11, the seedlings will be handed out free of charge. The distribution is being done by multiple charitable organizations across Victoria, and anyone who registers in advance is able to access the plant selection ahead of the general public. Student volunteers can learn about agriculture and earn a work experience credit.

Victoria takes food sovereignty seriously, as seen in a list of impressive bylaws and protocols that are in place to encourage urban gardening and farming. The city allows people to keep backyard chickens and beehives, encourages the establishment of community gardens, orchards and rooftop greenhouses, has a fruit and nut tree sponsorship program for public green spaces, and permits the sale of many homegrown edible products. It's a refreshing departure from the usual mess of municipal red tape that dissuades so many people from raising their own food.

What I'm most interested in seeing is whether this vegetable seedling project will be a cultural tipping point for Victoria's residents, and if it will set many households on a gardening path that they may not have initiated otherwise. It's a wonderful precedent for any city to set and I hope it continues past 2020, not only in Victoria but also in other cities across the country.

The Canadian city is distributing 75,000 seedlings to promote food security among residents.