When Oliver Cillis was just 6 years old, he and his younger sister Piper decided they wanted to put a garden in the middle of their lawn. Their parents agreed to the request, knowing that the reasoning behind it couldn’t be argued with.
“It all started when Oliver and I were traveling in our vehicle and Oliver spotted two kids at blue recycling bins by the side of the road,” Oliver’s mother, Stacey Allen-Cillis told Nature’s Path, the company that gave Oliver $15,000 to help fund his Garden Project. “He asked me why they were rummaging through the bins, and I explained they were probably collecting cans so they could get money for food. We were already growing veggies, and Oliver convinced us that rather than selling what we grew to fund our summer vacation, the money we raised should go to kids in our community who were in need.”
The needs of the community were great, given that the part of Canada the family lives in—Hamilton, Ontario—has been designated a food desert, meaning it’s difficult to obtain fresh produce in the area. In the four years since Oliver’s Garden Project began, all of the proceeds have gone to help low-income families and children.
“We choose a program each year, and we do research as a family to determine where our funds go within the different organizations that are committed to our vision of healthy food in Hamilton,” Allen-Cillis told Nature’s Path. “Our first year, we found Living Rock, an organization that works with at risk youth. Another year, we worked with Food 4 Kids to provide backpacks full of healthy food on Fridays to kids at inner city schools. We’ve also worked with Neighbour to Neighbour, a community food program.”
Allen-Cillis attributes the success of Oliver’s Garden Project to her children’s drive and enthusiasm. She says Oliver is personable, sharing all he knows about their garden, while Piper is a great salesperson. As you can imagine, the family has gotten a lot of wonderful feedback on the project. People have not only shared their story, but have also felt inspired by it, creating their own gardens in schools, daycares and backyards. What better compliment could they get?
As for the future of Oliver’s Garden Project, Allen-Cillis told Nature’s Path, “We’ve never veered from our main goal of grow, sell, share, and we’ll always stick to that. We’re hoping to have a garden kit made so families can easily start their own gardens, and we’d love to do more after school programming. At this point, we see our opportunities as limitless. We’re so happy to be involved with our community, and we want to keep sharing and spreading the love.”