Ron and Sara Hamill’s backyard has become a garden; so much so that it is difficult for Ron to get the lawn mower in to cut the small amount of grass left in the yard. Their garden has significantly grown in size since they moved into their house three years ago, and Ron has plans for the garden to take over the entire yard next year. You would think these avid gardeners had grown up with green thumbs, however it is a new found pastime introduced to them by Project SHARE.
The Hamill’s began gardening with one of forty-five Project SHARE community garden plots at Our Lady of Scapular Church. The couple attended gardening workshops with Project SHARE, and read several gardening books to educate themselves on becoming gardeners. Ron had always wanted to garden, and their family of seven is now reaping the benefits of their efforts.
In 2010 the Hamills began working with Nancy Thiessen, Project SHARE’s Backyard Garden Consultant at the time. Nancy ran the Backyard Garden Program which was funded in part by Niagara Region through the Niagara Prosperity Initiative, and taught people living below the poverty line how to plant backyard gardens to grow their own fresh produce. Nancy initially provided the Hamill’s with wood to build garden beds, and supplied them with seeds annually along with resources and advice on how to best use their space. The Hamill’s start the majority of their garden from seeds indoors and their five children like to watch everything grow in the windows. During this program Nancy offered educational garden workshops. Sara learned how to make strawberry freezer jam during the first workshop she attended and now preserves and cans the majority of her garden. “I make three kinds of jam, relish, ketchup, mint jelly, salsa, can peaches and pears, and pickle cauliflower, beets, and beans”. These feed their family during the fall and winter months, and are given as teacher gifts and to friends and family. The Hamill’s change their garden annually. They had an abundance of pickles last year, so they didn’t plant as many cucumbers this year. They have learned to stagger their planting as well so the food stretches throughout the growing season.
Their children truly enjoy the benefits of the garden. “The kids eat our stuff faster than I can preserve it” laughed Sara who doubles her recipes to feed her family. A batch of her raspberry jam requires seven cups of raspberries, and she preserved 60lbs of beets last year. Preserving is an affordable way for her family to eat healthy. “We used to go through two heads of romaine lettuce in one meal” explained Ron. The couple now grows their own lettuce, and Ron has plans to make a Plexiglas container to try growing it through the frost months. “You’ve got to be thrifty”. In addition to lettuce, the couple grows pole beans, watermelon, several kinds of tomatoes, broccoli, beets, mint, apples, cantaloupe, strawberries, and raspberries. “We’ve eaten three watermelons from the garden and just picked massive, long cucumbers. I use the mint to make jelly, and dry it out to add to ice cream, cookies and chocolate fondue” explained Sara. “The kids like to watch me bake, and love eating fresh produce. They have learned lots of new things”.
Ron and Sara enjoy sharing their knowledge and new passion with others. Sara taught their niece how to can, they recently built a garden for their Mom and have canned for their Dad. They bring produce in to Project SHARE’s emergency food program and encourage others to start their own backyard gardens. “Often we hear people say they can’t afford to start a garden” said Sara “ but it’s an affordable and healthy lifestyle. You can buy seeds from the dollar store, and will save any costs back in a month when you have food to eat”.