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Jody Hitchcock and Victoria Khardas smile together in the Northview Garden

A community in bloom

Bathurst-Finch resident Jody Hitchcock lives in a cozy house with a small garden. Perfect for someone who grew up in a rural-Ontario community and has gardening in her blood.

When her son (now seven) was diagnosed with a connective-tissue disorder, she felt fortunate to live in a city where expert care was available. Staying home to tend to him, however, made it difficult to meet other young families and she felt increasingly isolated.

So, when Bathurst-Finch Community Hub put out a call for volunteer gardeners, she jumped at the chance.

“Action for Neighbourhood Change, a United Way initiative that connects residents to create more inclusive neighbourhoods, surveyed people about the changes they wanted,” explains Victoria Khardas, who works closely with Jody and other volunteers, as the Hub’s Community Food Animator. “With the nearest supermarket five kilometres away, a community garden was a popular answer.”

Residents were true to their word. For the inaugural year, 140 from around the community joined together to create the 8,000-square-foot Northview Garden. And many residents who participated last year have become the driving force this year.

Which is no surprise, given the garden’s inclusivity. It welcomes all backgrounds and all ages, from young helpers to high-school students to seniors. It’s even divided into sections, appealing to different interests—from “Rainbow” (intriguing purple carrots and brown peppers) to “Jack and the Beanstalk” (bean teepees, popular with toddlers) to “Flower Power,” which serves a dual purpose of being usable and attractive to bees (e.g., chamomile for tea and roses for pot pourri).

Beyond a modest share for the deserving gardeners, roughly 50% of the produce grown fuels Hub programs and events that foster community engagement, while about 40% helps others who desperately need it. “Just two years in,” beams Victoria, “we’ve already supplied 250 pounds to North York Food Bank.”

But, healthy food is only part of the equation. “The skills and confidence that participants gain are also planting the seeds of social well-being,” Jody adds.

The evidence is in full bloom. Having met several neighbours (and gained many friends) who share a similar passion, Jody feels more connected to her community. And, having gained part-time employment with the Toronto Garden Club, she now enjoys a renewed sense of purpose and empowerment.

She only hopes that more residents will join the community garden. “We need more food and more smiling,“ she says. “Both are universal languages.”