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Seeds of hope: Grow Calgary kits address kids coronavirus isolation and city food security

As of this morning, more than 9,200 requests had been made for free kits that have sprouted a Calgary coronavirus solution that tackles both city food security and keeping kids occupied.

Grow Calgary’s Paul Hughes said he started to riff off a handful of social media posts on the upcoming growing season and how seedlings should be planted soon in preparation to hit the ground this spring.

At first, Hughes was thinking that they’d get requests for 50 or so of their seedling kits. Their engagement with a Facebook post reached 150,000 people – a jump of 24,000 per cent, Hughes said.

“I don’t know what happened. But something happened and it took on a life of its own,” Hughes told LiveWire Calgary.

“I guess people were just all at home, they’re all talking to each other. There’s so many community groups out there in Calgary and as soon as one mom or dad heard, it’s like, ‘hey, did you hear about this?’”

Food security and the seeds of wonder for children

Now, Hughes has a steady stream of volunteers helping him build what he’s now dubbed as Kits4Kids. It’s a tray, with dirt and between 100 and 120 seeds that are a mixture of 10 different vegetables. They receive a dome with it, so it acts like a greenhouse.

That and he has a steady stream of people coming to pick them up. The next step is to set up a citywide distribution system using a network of community volunteers.

For people who are coming up to his home to pick them up, its split on food security concerns and concerns about sanity with the kids. The idea of being able to watch the progress of the seedlings into sprouts and then into plants is a real education opportunity, said Hughes.

“There’s definitely a very real knowledge, a very real understanding of food security because of the run on food. People are talking about food. And so that was definitely present,” said Hughes.  

“The primary motivation was children being busy and something to do – the learning opportunity. The fact that it was free motivated a lot of people.”

Grow Calgary urban farm – ‘I can’t get anybody to call us back’

Hughes has been distributing these trays from his home, as the Grow Calgary move from a northwest Calgary plot of land to the southeast has met government roadblocks. They no longer have an urban farm location to work from.

His urban farm, once the largest in Canada, brought in thousands of students and provided tons of food to local groups annually.

The irony that food security is on people’s minds in this coronavirus time isn’t lost on him.

“I know hindsight is 20/20, but that was not a good decision to not get us going,” he said.

“We should be at the farm right now getting things going.”

He said he’s been “ghosted” by the government on that file.

“I’m not saying our food system isn’t secure, but it’s got some serious vulnerabilities,” Hughes said.  

“And I know I saw things like carrots, potatoes, onions gone. And we can grow that stuff here in massive volumes.”

How you can get a Grow Calgary tray

Friday morning, Hughes was on his way up to the Aurora production facility near Edmonton for more pallets to work with. He had a stock of 10,000 on hand and he’s getting close to handing out that number.

He wants people to register on their Google Form linked through their Facebook page.

“Then we’re going to find these community representatives to start getting into the community,” he said.

For now, they’ll continue to hand them out from his location. Those that have come are generally upbeat as they patiently wait – physical distancing where possible – for their seed tray.

“There’s been a sense of optimism; we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna get through this,” Hughes said.

“Nobody was being doom and gloom.”