Many community gardens can be found in Ottawa, where I spend most of my time. To the contrary of other cities, here, community gardening is a relatively new concept. Last year, the Community Gardening Network celebrated its 20th anniversary.
With experience working with local farmers’ markets and as an advocate for food security and food sovereignty, I write a column called “What’s on your plate?” for a local paper, and one of my articles addresses the benefits of community gardening. It turns out that in other parts of the world such as the UK, allotment gardens really took off during the Second World War when the government encouraged people to grow food within city limits through its “Dig for Victory” campaign, at a time when urbanization, economic instability and the war were leading to much food insecurity.
At the Ottawa Food Policy Council, where I lend my expertise, we encourage residents to grow food. We try to raise awareness about “Good Food” and how political decisions should be made, through a holistic “food systems” lens. Whether it’s container or community gardening, beekeeping or chicken raising, consuming the fruit of our labor is beneficial for our health and the environment as well as for our overall food security and literacy.
From a personal standpoint, hubby and I have been growing food for a few years now. First, on our apartment balcony, then in our backyard’s raised beds and nowadays, on a small plot that is part of a private “community” garden at Mike’s Garden Harvest, who has since become a client. Although I admit to not always having the patience, I have to say the experience of growing our own food is incredible. Learning about seeds, what varieties are native to our region, watching the veggies grow (and sometimes not!), testing different arrangements and even better, eating some of the most flavorful produce we’ve ever had, nothing can beat that! Have you ever seen a Brussels sprouts plant?!
Once upon a time…we grew our food!
If I’m telling you about this, it’s that for me, the process of growing food is a story of its own. We usually think about the consumption (e.g. eating!) side of it, and at best, the cooking portion. But we rarely think of how it all began, how it got to our plate. Doesn’t knowing where you food comes from and how it was grown part of the pleasure of eating it? For me, the answer is a resounding yes. Knowing things like where and how it was harvested and under what condition and by whom, makes it both interesting and educational. When you buy at the grocery store, the country of origin and a fair trade label tell you part of the story. Imagine how much you’d find out if it all started… in your own garden!
Gardening is not only a hobby but an opportunity to reconnect with nature, to learn, to share and to eat delicious food. And while food literacy has never been so present in the public discourse, it all starts at home. Think about it for a minute. Can you portray yourself as a kid observing grandpa attend to his tomatoes or helping mom make a nice apple pie from the fruit you had just picked in the orchard? That’s what it’s all about. Knowing where the food comes from, how it’s grown, how to use it. And at the end of the day, it’s about the connections, the relationships and the delicious meal you get to eat with your loved ones.
At The Storyteller, we support our community by getting involved in different projects we feel are raising awareness of such issues and we’re happy to be able to work with farmers, restaurateurs and not-for-profits who share that same passion.