Growing a food movement

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

Food security seems to be on everyone’s mind this year. It’s fascinating to see so many local initiatives in response to the concern for more local food, so I thought I’d share what it’s looking like in my part of the world on southern Vancouver Island.

The year began with a public forum on food security in the Westshore community, which launched a “Grow Tomato Challenge” by giving away hundreds of free tomato seedlings and mapping where they were grown for a future tomato festival to track people’s progress. Often, all it takes is one juicy, homegrown tomato to get a person hooked on growing food!

Food markets sprung up in all 13 of the municipalities in Vancouver Island’s Capital Regional District. At the end of Bastion Square’s Thursday market in Victoria, David Mincey from the Island’s Chef Collaborative (an initiative linking chefs with farmers) told me there was not enough food being grown to keep up with the demand. He is astounded by the response to local food at the downtown market. What a great incentive to get more farmers on the land.

Recently, I was bedazzled by the colourful sight of food being grown on the boulevard in the municipality of Fernwood. On Garden Street, not only did one front garden and boulevard overflow with edible plants, but also the vacant lot next door housed several allotment gardens. Around the corner on “Haultain Commons,” they were giving away free potatoes and squash from their boulevard garden. What a great way to build community and share resources.

In September, I spoke to an audience at a meeting for the newly established Farmlands Trust (www.farmlandstrust.ca) in the Mount Newton Valley in Saanich. Since February of 2008, people have raised $2.5 million of the $6.25 million needed to purchase 192 acres of Woodwynn Farm and turn it into a community farm that will become a model of sustainable, organic agriculture, providing education and land tenure to new farmers. Preserving farmland for the next generation is the only way to go when you consider that the average age of a farmer in BC is 56.

In the municipality of Oak Bay, the council changed a bylaw to allow the continuation of SPIN farming (Small Plot Intensive) so that Martin Scaia and Paula Scobie could carry on market gardening in 20 gardens. In Esquimalt, the council changed a bylaw to allow chickens in backyards and two women stepped forward to write a manual called Everything You Need to Know About Backyard Chickens.

At the Victoria Public Library, I sat on a discussion panel in an overflowing room, where MP Denise Savoie invited people to talk about Vancouver Island’s food security. Public forums are the only way to inform all levels of government of our concern for the future food supply, especially when 95 percent of the food we consume on this island comes from off the island.

This past March, I started teaching a 10-month course called Twelve Steps to Sustainable Homegrown Food Production and discovered two amazingly simple ways to build food gardens. Check out “Lasagna Gardening” and “Keyhole Gardening” on the internet. Instead of digging into the ground, you build up from the ground, which means you can grow food with very little effort or expense. These gardening methods turn unproductive spaces into food gardens in a few hours, as they can be planted with food immediately following construction.

“Keyhole” gardens are so easy to build that even children are making them. If you stockpile organic waste materials, such as cardboard, newspaper, leaves, hay, grass clippings, manure or compost, you’ll have the necessary ingredients. These gardens provide the healthiest and most productive food because the medium in which it grows is so fertile and rich in micro-organisms. 

I have often asked myself what it takes to launch a Grow Your Own Food movement, but I now think we may have already launched one. How’s it growing in your part of the world?

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.

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