Growing Good Food in Tumbler Ridge

Trent Ernst, Editor


The Good Food Box program is growing like a weed.

So says program coordinator Leesa Barbon, who took over the program in September of last year. “When I took it over, we were sitting at about 20 people,” she says. “Yesterday was our biggest with 110 boxes distributed. Every week it’s been a steady incline. My goal was to get to 50, I never imagined we’d get to the number we’re at.”

The name is a bit of a misnomer, as these days the good food is distributed in brown paper bags. “But Good Food Paper bag?” laughs Barbon. “Just doesn’t sound as good. Switching over to bags was the best thing ever. Trying to track down 100 boxes? Good luck. The bags work really well. When you see that brown paper bag, it says fresh. It fits with the whole theme of fruit and veggies.”

And expect the next time the bags get distributed to be even bigger. “I’ve already had seven people sign up today,” says Barbon the day after distribution. The Good Food Boxes are distributed once every two weeks. A full bag costs $20. A half bag costs $10.

She says there’s been some confusion over where the money goes for the food. “When you look at your box—well, bag—you see that you’ve gotten bang for your buck. In fact, we always run at a shortage with what is purchased and what you get in the box.”

Wait, the program is a money loser? Isn’t it supposed to be a fundraiser for Work in Progress? No, says Barbon. “The idea is to give youth with disabilities in the community the chance to do a job and participate. It’s to give them skills. Any money that comes into the program goes into the next week’s boxes.”

To cover the shortfall, Work in Progress gets a grant from the United Way Society. This year, the District of Tumbler Ridge is also kicking in some money to help out the program. “There’s never been a profit. We’re so fortunate to get these grants,” she says.

Work in Progress also donates a box to the food bank, an idea that’s been catching on. “The generosity the people have been showing is amazing,” she says. “Even with the downturn, I’ve seen more donations in the last few months than I have before. That’s the best part of the day: handing over those boxes to Shirley, knowing that the people in town are making a difference.”

Barbon says she does take requests, but within reason. “One week I went to order grapes, and it would have been $460.”

With over a hundred bags to prepare, the Good Food Box program is now having to order nearly as much fruits and vegetables as Shop Easy itself. “Last week we had a pallet and a half, this week we had two full palettes. It’s gone from ordering six cases of strawberries to 14 this week. It makes me laugh when I see the size of the order. We’re ordering as much or more as the grocery store is ordering for the town.”

And is it cutting into Shop Easy’s business? Barbon doesn’t think so. “Darryl has been fantastic. We’re so lucky to have him let us be there, especially with the amount of produce we have to order now. And I would hope having a 110 people coming into the store would mean that he’s getting more business, but he’s been so supportive.”

To what does she attribute the program’s growth? Word of mouth. “An advantage for me is I’m very outgoing and social,” she says. “I’m always talking about it, and word of mouth in this town makes a huge difference.”

If you’re interested in participating in the Good Food Box program, you’d better hurry, as Barbon is planning on capping the total orders at 150. “I’d love to get it to the point where 25 percent of the town’s population as participating, but for now, I’m going to cap it.”

She says she’s toyed with the idea of going weekly, or maybe having two groups on alternate weeks, but for now that’s just an idea. “I’ve got lots of ideas. “With summer coming; I’d love to have an outdoor veggie market or something like that. I’d love to see it continue to grow. Every week I think it can’t get any better, and every week it gets better.”

To sign up for the Good Food Box, call Barbon at 250-257-0059, or join the Good Food Box page on Facebook.