Q&A with Powell River Brain Injury Society Executive Director Deborah Dee: The Garden Project

Slater Vecchio is a proud supporter of the Powell River Brain Injury Society and we have been excited to watch the development of their garden project this past year.

I had the opportunity to ask Deborah Dee, Executive Director of the Powell River Brain Injury Society, a series of questions on the development of the garden project and the future of the program:

JAR: How did the garden project begin?

DD: The Powell River Brain Injury Society garden project is formally called the Innovative Outreach Through Nutrition, Cooking, and Gardening. It began as a way to connect with the larger population of persons living with the effects of acquired brain injury that were socially isolating themselves and weren’t coping in a traditional group setting. Many barriers for our clients include auditory sensitivity, difficulty with group setting, memory issues related to scheduling, fixed and/or low income. A certain segment of this population also does not cope well with coming to a drop-in facility with high activity. We operate on a client-centered model and make every effort to allow our population the opportunity to explore their ideas to successful outcomes.

Through discussions with staff, clients and volunteers we decided that this would be an opportunity to reach out to those with brain injury having difficulty participating in other programs. They would learn through innovative social contact in the garden about nutrition and how it affects their overall health and wellbeing. The garden is also an opportunity for our clients to learn cooking techniques and expose them to peer support in a small and fun group setting.  What better way to get healthy than by growing, harvesting, cooking and preserving local organic produce?

JAR: What impact has the project had on staff, volunteers and the community?

DD: As the project took shape it was clear that it wasn’t going to be just a regular garden plot. The result is the beginnings of a fantastic garden that has brought the community and the society together. Since it first began, the local community has been curious as to what is being built and who is doing it. Drivers slow down to see the progress and visitors are always stopping in to see how things are growing.  Clients who initially said they could not participate and are now stopping by continue to grow.   There is a garden shed, which was donated by the local carpentry students from the dual credit course at SD 47 and Van Island University. The Mayor of Powell River, Dave Formosa, also purchased a temporary mesh gazebo which has become a wonderful gathering place to relax and look at what has been accomplished so far.

 JAR: What plans are in the works for the garden project?

DD: There are plans to build a permanent accessible gazebo as one of the centerpieces of the garden.  There are also plans as per the city bylaw to build a chicken coop and run so there will be fresh eggs available. We have mastered the art of freezer composting, with three old freezers turned in to compost bins which produce a wonderful product that we plan to market. This will give the clients another opportunity for skill development and alternatives for self-employment. There is now a request for funding from HRSDC to begin a program to hire our clients for a year under the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities to do research for the garden initiative and compost project. The potential revenue from this project as well as the compost project will also be used as a social enterprise to continue to employ our clients.

JAR: What support has the project gained so far?

DD: It was actually you and Slater Vecchio LLP who gave us our first donation to the project that got it all started and we are very grateful for his belief in our dream. Look what can be accomplished when people believe in you. This couldn’t happen without the generosity of many people, from our first major funder, the Dave Irwin Foundation for Brain Injury, to the recent support from the Powell River Community Forest Society, to the volunteers, staff, community support and many more. We expect that one more year of funding to finish the infrastructure of the garden and to finish stocking the panty and purchasing the kitchen equipment we need will see this project become a fully self-sufficient program of the Brain Injury Society. There is much more planned and we have several grant applications out there.  So far no positive results, but we keep looking and dreaming.

JAR: What are the next steps for the garden project?

DD: The first year of the project is coming to an end and the results have far exceeded our expectations in the amount of participation from the clients and the attendance at the center as a result. It would appear that even a bit of socializing with peers and other in a community project has benefits that we couldn’t have imagined. It is truly an inclusive program that continues to evolve.  We now have another component of the project ready to build and that is a greenhouse for winter gardening with seed catalogues arriving and planning and dreaming continuing. This population never ceases to amaze me. Overcoming obstacles is what they do and I take inspiration from that, they are the most welcoming and caring group of people I have ever met.


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James Richards
James Richards is a born and raised Vancouverite who studied History, Political Science and Law at University of British Columbia. His over 20 years of legal practice and a busy and active family gives him his purpose, focus and some good writing material. When not in work–mode, he enjoys any excuse to be out and about our amazing city.