Volunteer James Mihell takes a quick break from planting a row of turnips at The Food Bank Farm to talk gardening.
“The property [where] we live is too shady to support a garden. And so this was a worthwhile outlet for my frustrated gardening desires,” he laughs.
The Food Bank Farm grows fresh, local produce for people in the Sault who are struggling with poverty and hunger. Much of the produce that is harvested is delivered to the Soup Kitchen, where its turned into nutritious, healthy meals. The farm is run by volunteers, who start the seeds in mid- March -- and continue harvesting and delivering food through the end of October.
The former consulting engineer finds the all-hands-on-deck activity to be a welcome change.
“It's almost the polar opposite in terms of engagement and activity that I was used to work during my working career,” he says. “I was isolated at a home office in front of a computer screen doing engineering analysis, and really had very little social interaction during the course of the day.”
While Mihell initially wanted to volunteer because he thought it a worthy cause, he was pleasantly surprised to find he actually enjoyed the work.
“A lot of that is because of the social interaction that exists here,” he says. “I'm out here with maybe ten volunteers today. And they all come from different walks of life, and they have interesting stories and interesting outlooks on life and a variety of backgrounds. It's taught me a lot about not just gardening, but about people, because I get to interact with people that I wouldn't otherwise get an opportunity to meet.”
Mihell aims to make it out to the farm three days a week, and finds satisfaction in every step of the growing process.
“Every time I’d revisit a field and look at what I had planted previously, there was a little bit of a mild shock to see that everything that I planted was still surviving,” he laughs. “It's really, really enjoyable work.”
Mihell is proud to be part of an operation that is making a real difference in the Sault.
“We have a lot of people in our communities that are down and out. As a result of circumstances beyond their control, they are living below the poverty line, they find it difficult to feed themselves and their children. And the fact that all of this food goes to help improve their lives and take away some of the stress of finding good nutrition for themselves and their families -- I think that's a really worthwhile cause.”
“I had a very close friend, who is unfortunately dead now,” says Mihell. “But he was the consummate volunteer -- any worthwhile cause he was engaged in. I always held him up as being a role model in life because he was always engaged in helping others and he had such a cheerful disposition. I realize now it was probably because of the fact that he felt good about himself.”
“This sort of thing is not always done out of pure altruism. I think sometimes you do it because it makes you feel good. I always continue to think about him as I contemplate getting engaged in other ways -- I think it's self serving in many cases. You don't think of that when you decide to volunteer that that in many cases, you get a lot more out of the volunteer experience than what you put in.”