Barrhaven United Church Community Garden Named After Peter Oegema

By Charlie Senack

A garden outside Barrhaven United Church has been named after a long-standing community member.

On Sept. 9, around 50 people gathered to recognize Peter Oegema, who was one of the founding members of the Barrhaven Food Cupboard. He died unexpectedly in May at the age of 61.

Oegema started with the food cupboard when it ran as a small emergency food pantry in the basement of the United Church. He played a crucial role in moving operations to the Walter Baker Centre when their services grew, and started to look after a garden lot which grew vegetables to offset the food center’s costs.

“He was a jack of all trades,” said Aaron Lemieux, director of volunteers at the Barrhaven Food Cupboard. “He built a lot of the plots and who was the one who purchased the seeds and fertilizer.”

The garden is run by a group of volunteers who keep track of how much money the Barrhaven Food Cupboard is saving by growing their own produce. Lemieux suspects they are saving “hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year.”

The event was also a way to recognize the countless volunteers who run the food cupboard. They have grown from a roster of 72 this time last year to over 150 active volunteers in Sept. 2023.

“It was a moving ceremony for a lot of people,” said Lemieux. “Pete was involved with us for over 20 years and wore so many hats. He was always selfless and shied away from the limelight. He won awards but didn’t even show up for the ceremonies. He did good because it was the right thing to do.”

Rising food prices

In 2022, Canada saw its biggest food inflation since the 1980’s with vegetable prices rising more than 12 per cent, according to Canada’s Food Price Report. The statistics also said it would cost a family of four an extra $1,000 to feed themselves in 2023.

The Barrhaven Food Cupboard has felt the pressure of rising food prices with more families turning to them for services. They went from fielding 260 requests in Aug. 2022, to 450 during the same month this year.

“The community is expanding fast and there is a lot of insecurity amongst a lot of people over food,” said Barrhaven Food Cupboard co-president Dawn Lilly. “People need to decide if they pay the rent or buy food. The cost of living has gone up so much.”

To ensure they could keep feeding hungry families, the Barrhaven Food Cupboard set a goal of raising $180,000. Lilly said they are 75 per cent of the way there.

“We are definitely able to keep the doors open for this year, but have made some changes. Their are some products we no longer buy and we don’t give as many perks as we used to. But everyone is still getting food,” Lilly said. “We are changing our focus to encourage people to become monthly donors to help us into next year because the same problem will arise. We have bills every month.”

On Oct. 7, a sold out comedy fundraiser will be held at the Barrhaven legion in support of the local food providing agency, featuring Ben Walker and Michael Friedman.  Food donations will also be collected at the annual Barrhaven Santa Claus Parade being held Nov. 19.