Trusting your neighbourhood

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

In February, while returning from a serene vacation in Costa Rica – self-described as the “happiest country in the world” – during the bus ride to the airport, a thief stole the backpack containing all my valuables, including my passport, money and credit cards. In an instant, the ‘pura vida’ of the previous month vanished.

The incident provided an insight into Costa Rica, and my life, I would not have otherwise had. It was a miracle I left Costa Rica on a standby flight only four days later (two weeks is the norm) and I had a lot of help from many apologetic people. Unfortunately, after a month of seeing signs everywhere with the warning, “Keep your valuables within reach at all times” and security guards and police posted on every corner in the tourist districts, I had let my guard down.

I was returning to a life in which I take trust for granted and where I don’t think about theft. Recently, the importance of trust between neighbours was bought home more strongly when I attended a gathering of the Gorge/Tillicum Urban Farmers community group (GTUF). In the fall of 2008, a few people in the Gorge/Tillicum neighbourhood of Victoria began meeting in each other’s homes to address the issue of local food security. When the group grew too large for living rooms, they started meeting at the Saanich Neighbourhood Place. GTUF currently has 70 members.

The early meetings were divided into two parts: sharing information about growing food and planning the group’s direction. The members added talks to the monthly meetings and some people worked toward a revision of the bylaw affecting backyard hens; one member helped create a food garden with Saanich Neighbourhood Place children.

Throughout the summer of 2009, they met socially for potlucks and in the fall they revised their mission statement and clarified tasks, encouraging members to take on various roles. The mission statement was revised to read as follows: “We choose to change direction and harness our collective creativity to adopt practices that allow us to develop resilience and live sustainably on our planet. Such a venture involves restructuring our food system locally, regionally and globally, to address the issues of global climate change, the depletion of oil and other fossil fuels, economic crises and potential earthquakes.”

GTUF now promotes itself through signs on properties that say, “Neighbours Growing Organically” and it links people with other food groups. It has organized its second Seedy Sunday; it offers tours of local food gardens and it is busy proposing a community garden in a local park to Saanich municipality. In 2010, GTUF received the Saanich municipality environmental award for sustainability.

GTUF’s objectives would be impossible to achieve if we had to live as the Costa Ricans do – behind iron bars, with barbed wire on top of property walls. My harrowing experience in Costa Rica taught me the value of cultivating and protecting trust and cooperation between neighbours as we organize to meet more of our own needs. ‘Making sure your neighbour is fed’ is my definition of food security and a climate of trust will pave the way to success.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path, a 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide and The Zero Mile Diet, a Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food (Harbour Publishing). She grows ‘Seeds of Victoria’ at The Garden Path Centre in Victoria, BC. earthfuture.com/gardenpath/

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