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Steve and Mel’s Garden

May 19, 2022

Planting For Others During the Pandemic: How One Business Is Thinking Beyond Profits, Using Skills & Passion to Help Others

Written by Abirah Chandraraj, Social Media Intern

If you ever drove by the Comfort Night Mattress & Furniture, you may have noticed a plethora of plants in front of their display windows. It has definitely caught the attention of many, but for us here at SCHC, the story behind it truly moves us. The plants that you see are part of a bigger picture and mission set by Mel & Steve, to plant 400 butternut squashes that will be donated to SCHC’s Food Bank and to inspire others to do the same. It was important for us to go down and see for ourselves and learn more about this garden from both Mel & Steve. Read below to learn more about the story and what inspired them to do something like this.

Tell me about yourself.

Mel: My name is Mel and my parents are farmers in the Philippines. I worked in Hong Kong for 7 years as a Personal Support Worker (PSW) and taking care of the elderly. I came to Canada in 2006 and continued working for elderly care. I met Steve in 2009 for the first time. I met him again in January of 2017 and we were married on Valentine’s Day 1 month later.

​During the pandemic, I did not have work. I did some gardening in the backyard of my house and planted different kinds of vegetables such as tomatoes and butternut squash. I would give them to my friends, and they loved it. They would ask me if I put fertilizer or spray and I was proud to mention that I did not because they were all organic.

How would someone describe you?

Mel: My friends would say that I am a very friendly and loving lady.
Steve: Although Mel is shy, she is always looking to see what she can do to help somebody. I have watched Mel change since she started this garden because this is something she knows and understands. She is able to give back to people who need it.

What motivated you to start this garden?

Steve: We were motivated to start this garden because there was wasted land here. We were cutting the grass one day, and I was thinking, we got to be able to do something better with land than just cut the grass. That is when we decided to turn it into a garden! It took a lot of work initially but now that it is here, this garden will be like this for the next 4 to 5 years. It is nice to know that everything it produces is for other people.

What do you wish everyone knew about food scarcity?

Steve: I do not think food is as scarce as people think. Do you realize how many businesses are out there that have this much ground in the front? If you drove down Birchmount, there is at least 5 acres of grass there that could be used to create a garden like this.
Mel: I was also told by others that this garden is very nice. If a few people can be like this and start their own garden, it would make a huge difference.

What do you hope to accomplish through your garden donation?

Steve: I have already accomplished it. My wife is happy, and we are doing something that we have been trying to figure out how to do, since we got married. It is one thing to give money to somebody, that is like “I got extra money, here you go”. Mel is spending 4-5 hours a day in this garden and that is because she cares. You cannot value time and that is what she is doing, and I look at it and think it is wonderful. She is out here doing what she loves to do, and it is a way to say thank you and I know I am talking for her, but I know it is true.

What would you say to encourage someone to donate?

Steve: Anybody can donate. Donations do not have to be money. Donate is whatever you are good at. Anyone can find out what they are good at and do it in a way to help somebody. Mel is good at gardening and look at what she has done. Not only is there a garden in the front, but it also continues all down the side of the building. This was not planned. She was having fun and I simply decided to extend the garden down the side of the building. I am so very proud of Mel, and I think what she has done here is just incredible.

What made you choose to donate to SCHC Food Bank as opposed to other food banks?

Steve: We were new to this area and wanted to affect the local community in a positive way. One day, I had gone with a lawyer, friend of mine, to pick up a truckload of food to distribute Downtown. It was all gone in a few hours. It must be difficult to be in a position where you have to ask for food. Mel and I decided to try and do something where you did not have to ask for it and were able to just take it. We spoke to Michael Thompson and some of the neighbours walking down in this area; and acting on their suggestions we contacted the SCHC. What you see here is the results of all of those conversations.

What is your personal philosophy on what should be done about food insecurity?

Steve: Security is simple. As far as food goes, this country can produce enough food to feed the world. It is just not doing it because big agricultural companies are taking over huge tracks of land, and everything is about dollars and cents. This is a small garden but if you took the land that was available in Scarborough, you could feed all of Toronto. It is not that difficult. There are a lot of Mel’s in the world who can take time out of their day to grow a garden. It takes time to set it up initially, but I guarantee, you would find farmers that would come in and help get something like that started. Four years ago, Mel did not have anything. We bought this property the weekend before we got married and look where it is at today. This is a very small part of it and there is a lot of work behind this that you do not see.

What do you think will change about food insecurity over the next five years?

Steve: The pandemic has changed a lot. I think there is a lot of people that have started their garden at home and realized that they can grow a third of what they go and buy and you do not have to use pesticides.

It is not going to surprise me that a 100% of the people do not go back to work in the city. They look at their quality of life that has happened in the past year during the pandemic and notice that they are communicating more with their children and spending more time at home. People are reassessing what is important in life.

Is there anything else that you would like to add that I may have missed?

Steve: This garden is all Mel! I hope we get a chance to give it away to people that need it. I do believe that if there were more Mel’s around, we would not have an as serious food shortage that we do have today.

The story of this garden is truly inspiring especially since the pandemic has brought more attention to the fact many Scarborough residents face food insecurity ​on a daily basis, that’s why we launched the Food Fight. To learn more about how to get involved and support the food bank, visit our food fight page or you can donate directly online.