KINGSTON, ONT. -- City staff in Kingston are using the city's own greenhouse to grow vegetables for a local charity to help address food insecurity in the region.

Karen Schinners has worked at the City of Kingston’s Rodden Park Greenhouse for more than 20 years and says that she and her fellow horticulturalist Dustin Thompson saw the issue of food insecurity growing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many people are hurting, for fresh food especially,” she explains in an interview with CTV News Ottawa. “I was aware that we could give something back.”

The greenhouse traditionally grows the spring and summer blooms that are placed in parks and the downtown core to beautify the city. Before the pandemic, it would be open to tourists to come and see the growing plants, but COVID-19 restrictions meant that wasn’t possible, freeing up extra space in the building.

Schinners and her fellow staff members approached the city to allow the group to grow lettuce for charity.

“It’s a crop that we can easily produce over winter, it doesn’t require a lot of excess time, and it was something very easy for us to do that would help people,” she says.

Troy Stubinski, the City of Kingston's public works manager, says the 200 plants were seeded in January.

“Putting them in different pots, different sizes, just seeing where we would have success, and where we wouldn’t have success. All the plants provided lettuce,” he explains.

The crop yielded 14 bags of lettuce, which were given to Loving Spoonful, a charity that helps people access fresh fruits and vegetables.

“It was important to try and deliver stuff like this to our residents,” says Stubinski.

“It’s nice to know the produce was produced locally, there are not any insecticides on it, it’s clean, and we were able to produce it for very little money,” agrees Schinners.

Ayla Fenton, urban agriculture organizer with Loving Spoonful, says the food will be distributed at one of the charity’s fresh food market stand this week, where residents shop for free, no questions asked.

Fenton says this is the most difficult time of the year to source local, fresh produce.

“Having the city fill that gap by providing fresh greens here is really important and really valuable to us,” she explains.

Fenton says she has also noticed greater food insecurity in the city.

“The demand on our own fresh fruit and market stands has increased massively; the number of people who are seeking our subsidized or free food right now is huge compared to what we would normally expect to see.”

Schinners says this was just a test run to start, and while she is unsure of how many future crops will be grown, she’s pleased with how it’s gone so far.

“This is a good quality product that people can enjoy for nothing,” she says.