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Lethbridge food banks seeing record demand, more turning to gardening

Work at the Lethbridge Food Bank hasn't stopped after a busy holiday season because food prices are still so high in the community, creating a demand for alternative methods of obtaining supplies. Work at the Lethbridge Food Bank hasn't stopped after a busy holiday season because food prices are still so high in the community, creating a demand for alternative methods of obtaining supplies.
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With the price of groceries remaining at an all-time high, food banks in Lethbridge are continuing to see high demand.

With the holiday season being the busiest time of year for the Lethbridge Food Bank, the start of a new year tends to be slower, but not this year.

“In about 10 years, this is the highest numbers we've seen,” said Mac Nichol, executive director of the Lethbridge Food Bank. “We're still serving about 80 more households than we were the year previous – which was another 50 households from the year before that. So, constant growth that way.”

Nichol says nearly 700 kids are being helped through the Mindful Munchies program - an increase of about 90 kids.

After a busy December, Nichol says the demand remains consistent, but donations have dropped.

“We’re seeing more clients than we’ve ever seen and we’re getting less food donated, so it’s kind of pinching us from both sides,” Nichol added. “That being said, we have great community support.”

Nichol says without the support from organizations and business in the community, the food bank would have to purchase most items which isn’t financially possible.

“We received about a fifth of the donations in February this year that we did the year prior and I think it's because it's (food prices) hitting a lot more people,” he said. “People that were in positions to donate are now needing to take care of their own which is totally understandable.”

Prices for food purchased from stores in February were up 10.6 per cent compared with a year ago.

That increase has left some trying to grow their own.

“I would say in the last few years we've seen an uptick in sales and people getting into their own gardening and growing their own,” said Dustin Napper, a horticulturist at Green Haven Garden Centre. “This year I’m already having a lot of questions about fruit like strawberries, raspberries and apple trees.”

Staff at Green Haven say it’s already been a busy spring with customers purchasing seeds.

Gardening saw an increase during the pandemic as a way to get outside, but that has now shifted to helping households stay on budget and be cost-effective.

“There is a little bit of work to it, but it definitely pays off for you in the end,” Napper added. “So, getting your gardening bed ready in the spring time, adding compost to the soil, making sure you have good nutrients and organic matter in there and then making sure you're doing proper water, so deep watering is best.”

As for when is the best time to start planting, Napper said, “You can start planting some stuff indoors, but it still is a little bit earlier so we usually like to wait until we don’t have those hard frosts. We usually go with planting things outside around the May long weekend, but in southern Alberta it’s very unpredictable.”

As for the number of clients needing support, Nichol expects it to remain steady throughout the remainder of 2023.

For those that may not have the space to plant a garden this year, Environment Lethbridge currently has eight community gardens that are open to the public.

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