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VIDEO: Energy ready to burst in Vancouver Island public orchard

Lifecycles land near Victoria cultivates community connections to land, each other

A toddler bobbles his way up a path, caregiver in tow unconcerned as the youngster enjoys some freedom in the grassy and treed public space that is B.C.’s Welland Community Orchard.

The park is named for Rex Welland, a late resident who, over two decades, packed more than 100 varieties of apples onto two-thirds of an acre, and left it to the Victoria suburb of View Royal in trust – under covenant to remain an orchard.

Victoria LifeCycles Project, a non-profit has led upkeep and creation at the orchard since 2013.

The two people who lead the small army of volunteers at the community park are relatively new to the project, with long-held commitment to farming and food security.

Orchard coordinator River Stevens, who accepted the part time position in mid-March, has passion for the land. It’s clear the way they walk about the orchard, gesturing and sharing tidbits already learned. When there’s something Stevens doesn’t know, they peek at a document of knowledge carefully honed and from longtime volunteers.

Their background is in agriculture, with five seasons spent working on small-scale organic farms, as well as a Landscape Horticulture Certificate (Red Seal levels 1 and 2) from the Pacific Horticulture College. With certification in hand, Stevens started their own business, Nightingale Gardens to focus on restoration and edible landscapes. And they do it all by bike.

READ ALSO: Greater Victoria fruit rescue, distribution program prunes school work

“It’s really nice to get part of my work caring for a public space,” Stevens said of the orchard.

Executive director Alex McArdle saw a similar opportunity, with a love for her Bird and Bean Farm in Saanich, she started with LifeCycles in December 2023, specifically because of the food security opportunities.

“I love my farm and farming but I do miss the bigger picture,” she said.

LifeCycles offers that in spades, and Welland is a huge part of it. A View Royal funded and supported park, it relies heavily on volunteers and sees a steady stream of visitors walking through.

It’s an opportunity, not just for the two leaders, but for the volunteers and visitors, to see what varieties thrive in a changing environment, the flexibility of pest control with more natural methods and a way folks to just get their hands in the dirt.

“Not only are we telling them it’s possible, we’re showing them,” Stevens said.

McArdle also sees it as an asset in education and awareness, particularly for the vast population with zero or limited access to outdoor growing space.

“This space has the ability to be an outdoor classroom,” she said.

The goal is to bring general food literacy beyond nutrition and health offered in schools, but also provide connection – orchard activities bring together people who might not meet otherwise.

Those activities start soon in the community space. Anyone can visit the website at lifecyclesproject.ca to register for work parties and events.

READ ALSO: Growing food network in Greater Victoria brings seeds, expertise to the people

Spring is an exciting time, as fruit trees start to bloom and native pollinators burst from winter cocoons.

“It’s that feeling of energy that’s being held back a little, but starting to shoot out,” Stevens said, animated by the things they’re still discovering amid the 200 varieties of fruit trees and bushes.

“Some of them don’t exist in other places,” Stevens noted. “It’s like a little treasure hunt.”

In a few months time people can walk through the park and pick a piece or two of fruit to snack on.

Except the figs, it seems no one ever gets to enjoy the figs.

The bush is often prematurely plucked clean – and an unripe fig is just not tasty, Stevens and McArdle agree.

They hope this year signage will help someone score a sweet, ripe fig.

The orchard at 1215 Stancil Ln. is accessible from the Galloping Goose Regional Trail and close to two bus stops.



Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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