A new initiative by a Merritt local offers community members fresh produce and other garden goodies, all by donation. The Merritt Community Cooler is a Facebook page launched in July of 2022, the brainchild of Carly Johnston, a former dog groomer and avid gardener looking to give back to the community.

Johnston’s home on Coldwater Avenue was affected by the November floods, and seeing the immense loss and destruction caused by the flood prompted her to give back. When a seed producer in Delta, B.C. offered up seeds to flood affected residents, the idea for Merritt Community Cooler was planted. Initially offering up bags of mixed greens, demand was high and Johsnton quickly needed to expand her concept.

“??When West Coast Seeds offered free seeds to residents after the flood, it sparked an idea for a way to pay their favor forward,” said Johnston.

“The first heatwave of summer hit while we were away for the weekend. I knew I would be coming home to lots of greens in need of harvesting before plants began to bolt. Many of those greens were started from the seeds given away, so I figured it was the perfect time to get the ball rolling!”

Every morning, Johnston tends to her garden and determines what produce and greens she has available for harvest. After picking the produce and packing it into a cooler, the cooler is set in the shade at the front of her property, easily accessible by passersby. Johnston posts a daily list of her stock to her Facebook page, along with one of her original shots of the Nicola Valley, or a photo of the day’s harvest.

Johnston formerly operated Contemporary Canine, a home-based dog grooming business, which moved to Merritt with her and her partner in 2018. Changes in her health meant she recently had to step away from her career. The couple originally hails from Abbotsford, but are happy to call Merritt home. While the destruction of green spaces and gardens were the driving force behind the Community Cooler’s creation, Johnston is also concerned with food security for her fellow Merrittonians.

“Everyone deserves affordable access to quality food. The Merritt Community Cooler is a way for me to provide something I am passionate about in a way that anyone is able to enjoy it,” added Johnston.

“Folks are able to view and select from the produce available and have the option to pick their own price. There is no minimum amount required.”

The dog groomer turned amateur homesteader says while the project is still in its infancy, support from the community has been undeniable. She says monetary donations left in the cooler are welcomed, as well as interacting with the Merritt Community Cooler Facebook page. While bags are available for those accessing the cooler to take, Johnston says most people have brought their own reusable bags or transported the produce as is.

Moving forward, Johnston will continue to offer up her harvests, and is brainstorming ways to keep the Merritt Community Cooler stocked outside of the usual gardening season. The Merritt Community Cooler is located at 1876 Coldwater Avenue.