Challenges… with a scent of basil

Brenda Grealis

This is Brenda Grealis. She is the head farmer at Hastings Urban Farm in Vancouver (58 Hastings St. W.), which is a social project run by the Hastings Folks Garden Society and the Portland Hotel Society (PHS).

Brenda has been treated for addiction and this job is part of the recovery program that the PHS designed for her. It suited perfectly, because she lived for 20 years in a cooperative farm in the Frasier Valley before a life crisis dragged her into the streets.

For the past 24 months, she has been the supervisor of every little thing that happens in the Hastings farm. On Oct. 3, 2013 she was harvesting the last basil yield of the year, and she took a moment to talk about the challenges ahead with this crop.

After hand-picking the best leaves for that Thursday’s market, she looked for the buds, explained that the flowers containing the seeds grow from the bottom to the top and then took those buds to the greenhouse. There, she selected the ones that were not extremely moist and put them to dry.

Brenda watched carefully that the seeds were inside the cocoons. Her goal is to plant them in May, when the temperatures rise and warm the soil.

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“Not only you get help for your addiction, like detox and then treatment, then they have options for training and then there are options for employment and that’s such a well-rounded process for somebody who gets clean and then says: ‘What do I do?’, kind of thing. So that was very helpful for me”, Grealis said about the program she is part of.

She seems proud of knowing every little corner of the half-acre-lot where she works, and also of her achievements within that space. “Last year we also got the little greenhouse, so that we can start our own little plants to plant on, instead of having to order them from somewhere. We are becoming very self-efficient”, she said.

Inside the greenhouse, she also hand-picked some Persian star garlic while explaining that it gets its name from the shape of the top of the bulb. She was drying the product there, in order to plant it later. However, she explained that she wasn’t going to plant the whole bulb and, because of that, she needed to separate each one into individual cloves and then put them to dry.

Her goal was to bury  800 cloves of garlic, to let them grow during the fall and harvest them in the spring.

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