Gay Bell, left, and Michelle Kalve, two residents of High View Apartments on 14th Avenue, take care of a number of garden boxes that the building’s owners donated. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Residents, landlords in Port Alberni complex team up to find gardening solution

Affordable housing complex plants garden boxes to keep residents in fresh vegetables

Residents at a housing complex on 14th Avenue have been busy this spring and summer planting and harvesting from new garden boxes, thanks to their building’s owners.

Michelle Kalve and Gay Bell are up every morning to tend to the gardens, hand watering the eight new boxes and other beds they have established. They often spend several hours a day tending to the plants: the entrance to the building is a riot of colour from hanging baskets and planted pots on the wooden deck.

“When I first moved in here I started with the (beds) along the side of the building,” Kalve said, sitting in a chair in the midst of the new garden. “Then some long boxes in the back too.”

Kalve and Bell both moved into the building around the same time, in 2016, and have taken care of the gardens with encouragement from building management.

“I think it was really nice of them to help us along,” Kalve said. “We’re pretty proud of all this.”

Kalve planted a garden in the back parking lot, facing the alley and along a fence. The garden has slowly spread all along the fence bordering the property (with permission from the homeowner on the other side of the fence, she said), and encroaching on the parking area. It was this new area that prompted a visit from the City of Port Alberni’s bylaw department, she said.

“We had some issues in the back alley,” said Mike Ruttan, who is one of the founders of the Alberni Valley Low Energy Housing Society, which owns the complex on 14th Avenue. “They were planting vegetables, and last year they had an incredible crop. They wanted to grow potatoes in tires.

“We said we would supply garden boxes and dirt to go with it.”

The society received permission from the city’s bylaw department to have a garden plot in the alley, taking up one parking spot. Additional boxes were planted in the front yard, which is a combination of gravel and garden boxes.

Kalve said the cooperation residents have had with the society’s board has been tremendous, and is appreciated. “I just take pride in where I live, and I’m a renter,” she said.

Residents in eight of the 11 units have been tending to the garden boxes. Kalve said vegetables are split up between all the units, so even those who haven’t been gardening will still have fresh veggies to eat.

“When harvest time comes we’ll make sure everyone gets potatoes and beans.” There was also a lot of kale growing for everyone, she added.

“We’re really delighted with the way this has unfolded,” Ruttan said.

Numerous businesses and community members pitched in for the garden project. Jan Lavertu at Westcoast Home Hardware helped out with the garden boxes; Earth, Land and Sea delivered dirt and compost for free; Heather Shobe of Grow Local Alberni Valley and Gail and Dave Morton donated plants.

“It’s been a tremendous effort to get it to this point,” Ruttan added.

“As a society, this has always been our vision: not only creating energy efficiency but creating a community within the people in our building.”

The Alberni Valley Low Energy Housing Society will break ground this fall on another energy-efficient housing complex, this one on Maitland Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues. Ruttan said a community garden will be incorporated into the design.

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Gay Bell, left, and Michelle Kalve weed one of the garden beds they keep at High View Apartments on 14th Avenue in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

When the city’s bylaw officer said Gay Bell, left, and Michelle Kalve couldn’t expand the garden in the back parking lot of High View Apartments, the Alberni Low Energy Housing Society brought in garden boxes and donated soil, fertilizer and plants for the front yard. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

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