A thriving community tradition – WI Plant and Bake Sale, Saturday May 5
The Women’s Institute’s annual Plant and Bake Sale (with special guest appearances from the Pemberton Farmers Institute seed swap and seed potato sale) takes place Saturday, May 5, from 9am til noon, in the Pemberton Legion parking lot. For those in the know, it is the best place to pick up Pemberton tested plants and seeds, including famous Pemberton Seed Potatoes, as well as home baking and a concession stand, coffee and goodies inside the Legion. It’s like the pre-cursor to the Farmers Market… after all, in order for there to be fresh produce at your Market, there first needs to be seeds swapped and sold and started. It’s arguably the quintessential Pemberton event, and certainly a delightful way to herald the arrival of gardening season. Plus, the prices have barely changed since the 1970s, making the Plant Sale one of the only inflation-proof things in the world. (PS For instructions in how to grow your own potatoes, the Farmers Institute website has all you need to know.) We checked in with the organising force behind the WI’s Plant Sale, President Linda Ronayne, to find out more…
What’s the history of this event?
It was originally held in the old Pemberton Community Hall (AG Foods current site). In the 70′s, the WI held a Mothers Day Sale and brought in plants to make baskets to sell. Then they started digging plants from their gardens to add to it. The seed potato sales started around that time as well. In the mid 80′s other groups started selling plants the same weekend so the WI moved to the first Saturday in May. Back then, there weren’t enough customers to support two events on the same day. The Community Hall burned down in December 1980 so the Legion became the new venue.
Why do you do this every year?
We have a wonderful community who comes out to buy our plants and baking. We also feel it is extremely important to make seed potatoes available to the public. We get such a great response from our community that makes it such a fun event.
Why is it important for people to source their potato seed here?
This is a protected area called a Seed Potato Control Area. It is against the law to bring potatoes into our valley to grow in your garden. Potatoes can contract many viruses and diseases which seriously compromise the crop. Our valley is naturally devoid of such diseases and because of that the local farmers can earn a living by selling seed potatoes to other areas in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California, Alberta and other areas such as Manitoba, Richmond and Delta. The local Seed Potato Growers make sure there are plenty of stock available for the home gardener by donating sacks of potatoes to us for our sale and then also to the Pemberton Valley Nursery for people who miss our sale.
Have the prices changed very much over the event’s history? It seems like the most ridiculously amazing value.)
The prices haven’t varied by much over the years.
Has the popularity of the event changed over the years? Pemberton seems to have more and more people who want to learn to grow their own food, or can some of their produce, or just enjoy a closer relationship with what they consume, and they’re trying to reacquire that knowledge.
Yes, I feel that more and more people just want to grow a garden and are learning how. I feel the community gardens play a terrific role in towns and cities where people don’t otherwise have access to a patch of dirt. A lot of people have moved here from larger areas so didn’t have the opportunity to grow up in an area like here learning from their parents while helping out.
It strikes me that that makes the Women’s Institute an incredible precious community “asset” - a group of people who have that knowledge and can facilitate that reconnection…
I feel that it is a part of who our group is.
What is the Women’s Institute?
A huge group of women worldwide who strive to improve the lives of women and their familes. For the most part, Women’s Institutes were formed when women wanted to help other women locally and abroad. It was a time for socializing and joining forces to lobby the governments for better services. For example, our local ladies wrote letters until they succeeded in getting hydro and then telephones into our valley. I am sure it would have happened eventually but they may have just got the job done a little quicker. These days, there are Social Services in place so we have become more of a fundraiser group and can help out monetarily. There are still lots of WI groups around the province who do a lot of lobbying for various issues in their areas such as the Site C dam and the proposed pipeline and I am sure if we had something like that in our backyard, we would become more active in such matters.
It’s the longest running association in Pemberton, starting in 1940. Do you think it’s still a relevant organisation?
I feel it is very relevant. We have made a name for ourselves in our community and are able to help many local organizations as a result of our fundraising. We have never turned down any group who has asked us for help.
Where do the plants for sale come from?
The plants we sell mostly come from our gardens or seeds we start. Often our local nursery donates a couple of trays for us to sell and we have a member with a friend at Van Dusen gardens who came with some plants last year and will again this year.
What kind of plants might we expect?
We mostly have perennial flowers and ground covers as well as some annuals seedlings, trees, shrubs, herbs, raspberry canes, tomatoes. We accept any plants anyone would like to donate. Some of us have friends with gardens who bring things to us when they are dividing plants that are getting to large for their spot.
Why is it better to buy a Pemberton-started tried and true plant, than to pick a load of stuff up at the Home Depot in Squamish?
One good reason is that if a plant has been growing here, you can be fairly certain it is hardy enough for our area whereas you may inadvertantly buy a plant less hardy from Squamish or Vancouver. If you are talking annuals, then it doesn’t matter because the first frost will get them anyhow.
What zone is Pemberton in?
Mostly zone 4 which will get you down to about -30 but we can get away with a lot of zone 5 and just know that we may lose them one year. In recent years, our winters have not been as harsh as they used to be.
How does a person work out what grows well in Pemberton?
Trial and error.
Watch for zones which are usually on the tag at a nursery and if not, then ask in the store. Here, our Nursery is excellent in bringing in stock that is suited to our area. Of course, there is a huge variation in our area as well. People can grow peaches down Lillooet Lake and in D’Arcy as well as apricots and other items that haven’t a hope of surviving a winter in the upper valley. So, you will find plants in our local nursery that are not totally suited to the entire area. The staff there are extremely knowledgeable.
When can people start planting by?
Some seeds can go in when the soil dries up enough to get on the garden and work it up, such as peas, radishes, beets, potatoes,spinach, carrots, lettuce, swiss chard. The soil needs to be warm for things like beans, squash and corn. Seedlings of the cabbage family are fairly hardy but tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, and peppers or anything the least bit tender have to wait until that last frost which is typically 24th of May weekend. Some years, we don’t get a late frost but it is always a gamble to plant tender things out sooner.
Who are the beneficiaries of the sale?
Pearl’s Safe House, Pemberton Food Bank, Pemberton Secondary School bursary program, BC Children’s Hospital, Pemberton Health Care Foundation, BC Women’s Hospital, Covenant House, Salvation Army, Pemberton Library, Pemberton Museum, Pemberton Legion are some of our annual recipients and others who have approached us have been the local school lunch programs, Grizzlies Football Team, Dragonboat Team, Firefighters, Pemberton Seniors, High School Basketball Team, Brownies and Guides, 4-H Club have all been helped over the years.. We are very appreciative of the people who come out to support our endeavours. It makes all the effort worth while and then we can give back to the community we live in.
We are always looking for new members. We have about 20 members but most are very busy in their own lives as they have jobs and or families and get spread pretty thin. I am very reachable by phone and we hold meetings in the basement of St. Davids United Church up on the hill overlooking town. The third Monday of every month from September to June at 7:30 pm. Anyone is welcome.