The Great Veggie Grow Off Cultivates Strong Communities and Lots of Fresh Food

The Lanark County Food Bank in Ontario, Canada, believes in a little friendly competition, especially one like the Great Veggie Grow Off that benefits people who rely on the Food Bank to put nourishing food on their tables every day.

The Great Veggie Grow Off is a community challenge issued by the Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardens, whose mission is “Growing Food, Building Community.” The Neighbourhood Tomato was started by Mills Community Support to provide opportunities for seniors and persons with disabilities to grow healthy food and be contributing citizens in the northern part of Lanark County. It has grown to include a network of active community gardens across the region to support its overall mission: “We help create welcoming communities through capacity building, partnerships and person centered services.”

The first Grow Off, held in 2014, was the brainchild of ABCD innovator Jeff Mills, Mills Community Support, and some local citizen gardeners in Mississippi Mills, Carleton Place and Beckwith, communities served by the LCFB. They saw the effort as a “friendly challenge” between the three areas to see who could grow and donate more fresh produce to share with their neighbors in need.

“We receive dated produce from stores which we hand out to our clients with the caveat that it should be eaten that day,” Food Bank chair Karen Lomas says. “With the Great Veggie Grow Off, our clients get produce that is very fresh and will last them for a week (or more), which greatly improves the nutritional factor of their hamper and is good for those with dietary restrictions. It also means we can spend the money saved from not buying produce and put it toward milk, eggs, cheese and yogurt (and sometimes even some hamburger).”

A friendly challenge, according to the Food Bank, means “you try your hardest and encourage your fellow counterparts as you go.” Unlike competition among individuals, “when the competition grows from the efforts of individuals to communities banding together in collective acts of altruism, we all benefit.”

That way of thinking has paid off.  Last year, the local growers donated more than 2,800 pounds of produce to the LCFB. The 2014 Grow Off even got the attention of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which picked up an article from the local newspaper and posted it on the UN’s World Food Day USA Facebook page.

“We are extremely happy with the result of our friendly competition between the towns,” Jeff told us in an email last year. “It has helped draw attention to the work of the Food Bank with an eye to encouraging more people to garden and help with community food security. We are all excited about next year with plans to widen the effort by encouraging schools and others in the community.”

Getting more people involved produced even better results this year and won the Grow Off more publicity, including video interviews posted on the CBC Ottawa Facebook page. From the kick-off in May to the day of the final weigh-in on October 10, 2015, the community gardeners had grown and donated more than 4,000 pounds of fresh fruits and veggies to the Food Bank.

“Mississippi Mills won the challenge but the real winner is our clients,” Ms. Lomas said. When local gardeners put their time and talent to work this way, the Food Bank has more local healthy food to offer and the community as a whole is healthier.


Learn more about Mills Community Support at

Acknowledgments and sources: Jeff Mills; Mills Community Support; Lanark County Food Bank; “Great Veggie Grow Off competition aims to fill more plates this year,” Inside Ottawa Valley, May 15, 2015;  “The Great Veggie Grow-off: Final weigh-in October 10,” The Millstone News, October 5, 2015. Images: Rick Ligthelm.



About the Lead Author

Leslie Stephen
Leslie Stephen
Leslie Stephen is the editor of The Abundant Community book and website.

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