Lighthouse Community Food Forest

A community food security project at the Salvation Army Food Market’s Lighthouse Community Ministries in Salmon Arm, with support from the Shuswap Food Action Society.

Every month starting in April, we’ll get together and do an educational tour of the food forest and then we all pitch in and take care of the space for the Salvation Army food market clients!

This is a fun and heartwarming way to give back to your community, learn about local food and permaculture, meet new people and share your light in a meaningful way.

This project started in 2021 as a collaboration between the Salvation Army’s Lighthouse Ministries, Shuswap Food Action and Lekker Land Design to address local food security and will continue to produce more food for those in need each year, with your help. (more on the story below)

Some of the tasks we’ll be doing this year (2023) are:

planting seeds, thinning fruit, adding wood edges to the steel beds, weeding, watering, harvesting, plant training, building two new trellis tunnels, reconnecting & enclosing the rainwater collection system, turning and managing the 3 bin compost system, raking leaves and putting it all “to bed” in the Fall.

We welcome experienced gardeners, student, newbies, community groups, individuals, anyone who wants to experience the joy of helping, connection and fresh, local food.

Scheduled dates are April 12, May 10, June 14, July 12, Aug 9, Sept 13, Oct 11 and all will be 8am-12pm, unless otherwise posted. Tours will start at 9:30am.

Please let us know ahead of time if you’ll be joining us so we have some idea of how many we can look forward to. Many hands make light work, so the more the merrier!

In case of expected rain, we’ll shift to the following day, if possible.

If you have a group that would like to come regularly to water, we’ll need this on a weekly basis throughout the season.

You can email to register or ask any questions you may have.

We look forward to having you out at this wonderful new space!

In the summer of 2021 we got together with stakeholders for the Lighthouse Community Ministries to discuss the possibility of installing an edible garden on the front lawn at the Salvation Army Food Bank in Salmon Arm. Donations of food had been declining during the pandemic and the need for the food bank’s services had grown.  (Before picture of the front lawn, Summer 2021)

Executive Director Joel Torrens of the Lighthouse Mission  believed there could be a better and more abundant use of the space, so he reached out to Melanie Bennett of the Shuswap Food Action Society and she introduced him to our Permaculture Designer and Project Manager Keli Westgate.

Keli drew up a rough design sketch of a hybrid food forest including fruit trees, berry bushes, raised beds for annual vegetables and herbs and more and by the Fall the group had already done a good chunk of the toughest work installing the “hugelkultur” mounds which would settle a bit over the winter and be ready to be planted in the Spring of 2022.

These raised beds are being used to build soil and produce a harvest as quickly as possible. 

As most will recall, the summer of 2021 brought apocalyptic-type conditions to the Interior of BC, with a deadly heat dome starting it off, to historic wildfires, choking smoke and unbreathable air, followed by landslides and road closures, so the food security of the region was looking rough…talk about great timing for a project that responds to that! Here’s a map of the fires around the BC Interior at one point!

Thankfully, the community really came together quickly and generously with donations of services like excavation and trenching for irrigation Mountainside Earthworks which saved our backs from digging so was very appreciated! Mulch, dry wood to use as organic matter from Andrea Gunner of Rosebank Farms, dead leaves for mulch and filler and more from all over the valley (see below gallery)

Quality soil delivery deeply discounted came from Reimers Farm Service, being shovelled here by happy volunteer Adam of Hatchworks.

Certified organic compost donated by Spa Hills Compost being delivered by another generous volunteer Green4Earth!

Passive Remediation Systems (PRSI) donated some biochar, which not only sequesters carbon, but it gives all of the soil beneficials a great home to nestle into.

We lined the hugelkultur bed trenches with cardboard to hold back the weeds. Although these raised beds just looked like piles of straw at first, they are super-charged after the first season of settling (although ours produced very nicely the first year, prayers answered!)

In October, with the help of some hard-working and dedicated Girl Guide volunteers, we started planting garlic bulbs in the hugelkultur beds and flower bulbs to mark the perimeters for the fruit trees and their guilds that would be coming later and to entice the pollinators to the site as early as possible in 2022. This wasn’t an easy job as the soil on this site was hard compacted clay that really took some effort to dig into!

The first crocus flowers starting to show themselves through the mulch, Spring 2022! These will come back every year in March to start the growing season.

As soon as we could get back at it in March and April, we assembled the very popular steel raised beds and filled them with soil (no small task!) and compost and mulch and even some biochar, once again with the help of wonderful volunteers! Once these beds were in, the community really started to take notice and we’d often hear people wandering by with a compliment about how much they liked these beds and how excited they were about the project. The hope was building!

As with so many projects in the last year, this one was not without its challenges and finding people to help was a struggle at times. People were falling ill or caretaking someone else who was, and we had the supply chain issues everyone else struggled with, not to mention price changes, environmental challenges, mental health issues and so some things took a bit longer than expected, but it got done with perseverance and effort! (huge kudos to Melanie Bennet!)

Now THAT is dedication and community spirit!! Emily with baby in tow, what an amazing Mom! Many hands make light work, and it also warms the soul knowing that these efforts will go to feeding the community in need.

We planted 6 fruit trees including a couple of “fruit salad” trees to increase biodiversity even more, a few berry bushes, some comfrey, a bed of gorgeous and delicious strawberries …(Thank you to Recline Ridge!) with onions as well as raspberries on the perimeter of the site by the fence.

Very quickly we had lettuce and radishes with the help of yet more volunteers! The intergenerational efforts were heartwarming to see, and the parents that brought their kids to help out gave them a gift that will last a lifetime. Inspiration and a feeling of value in their service.

It was quite windy the day we planted the fruit trees, which is not ideal, but 5 out of 6 survived and the one that didn’t will be replaced in the Spring. There are no guarantees in growing food, as any farmer or gardener will tell you, so you learn and try again and pray for the best!

With the help of Brent from Shuswap Mantels, we installed a large brick herb spiral so visitors would have a lovely sensory experience close to the front doors and they could grab a few spices on their way home with their food. In the herb spiral is oregano, cilantro, thyme, sage, lavender and beebalm (aka bergamot) for the pollinators. This is really a highlight for visitors and a common sight in a permaculture garden design, although they are rarely this majestic! We encourage you to sniff the herbs, rub them between your fingers and engage with the plants at this site. It is meant not only to be a source of food, but a place for connection, education and community, not to mention healing.

In May, the up-cycled pallet 3-bin compost system was assembled by a fantastic group from Telus. So nice to have such a good turnout with these happy and hardworking helpers.  This compost area will be able to process all of the organic “waste” produced on site, including the leaves from the large existing deciduous tree. We wanted this to be at the centre of the space as it’s the shortest distance to walk with debris and also, as any gardener will tell you, compost and soil it supports is at the heart of any successful garden or edible landscape. Just remember, carbon (“browns”, leaves) on top, turn it regularly, add water when needed and please, only add organic material from the site, nothing else.

Finally, the 1000 litre rainwater harvesting system went in as a backup for watering. Water is an ongoing concern as it was difficult to get help with a number of irrigation issues, so having some backup and displaying water harvesting gets people thinking, talking, adapting and recognizing that we need to have some redundancy in our designs as the climate changes.This 1000 litre IBC tote is now covered to protect it from sunlight, which should stop algae from growing inside. Plants like rainwater best!

Do not drink this water, please, it is not potable/safe!

By June and July guests were already harvesting some gorgeous and healthy broccoli, lettuce and strawberries, educating, sharing, supporting, learning and growing together as a community. The connections this site has created have warmed our hearts and the interactions with the plants and insects and food certainly feels healing. Early on we had some adorable painted identifier rocks created by …. and had a good start on peppers and tomatoes as a few folks agreed to start some seeds and foster seedlings for us! Thank you Anne, Rebecca and everyone else who came through! The concept of just taking food is a tough one for many people to accept, as they see it as “stealing”, but all of the food at the Lighthouse Community Food Forest is free to those who need it, like all food bank donated food.

The food forest will take years to fill out completely, but the foundation has been laid and the intention is to have more and more food to share over the coming years. Some things will survive, some things will fade away as the system grows and regulates itself and the learning will continue. Access to healthy local food is an absolute essential and we are so proud to be a part of increasing food security in B.C., especially after the year we had last year.

This project welcomes ongoing volunteers, so if you’d like to help with weeding and watering, Fall cleanup and/or soil prep, planting seeds and plants in the Spring or anything else please get in touch today. During the Fall cleanup in late October or early November, we’ll talk about best practices for composting so that what we get to use later is the best amendment it can be.

We are hoping to produce a short documentary about this project. If you have watched this food forest grow over the last year and would like to share some feedback or would be willing to be interviewed, we’d love to hear from you, or if you would like to contribute to it, please contact us!