Thursday, July 21, 2005

Eating Local

Growing your own food will help you understand how you are what you eat. If you aren't into farming, however, you could at least eat the products of those around you who are. Here's why.

One of only two city-operated community gardens, the Dundas Community Garden site edges onto the wilds of the Royal Botanical Gardens' property, sharing space with nesting snapping turtles. And deer. It seems that the pesky deer are up to the task of clearing even the hardiest jerry-rigged fence, free to lop off the choicest bits, beans being a particular attraction.

We're the new gardeners on the block, though most of the green thumbs here have been refining their arts over a number of years. What strikes the newcomer is the way they've engineered immaculate defences against blossom-browsing deer, the meticulously staked- out orange plastic fencing serving, too, as the margins for a seasonal battle against myriad green invaders, unwanted plants otherwise known as weeds.

We payed $25 to rent our plot of land measuring six by nine metres, made a trip to Flamborough to buy seeds and a few tomato plants, and with some initial advice from a friend with years in the community garden trenches, we're digging and sowing. The sun beats down. Tomatoes, lettuce, peas, squash, zucchini, beans, cucumber and potatoes find homes. 

We're the only ones using a raised bed technique, which worries my seven- year-old. "I want to plant rows, like this," she points earnestly, indicating our neighbour's neat lines of pepper plants. The difference makes me a bit nervous too; being new and novel in the ancient art of farming may be pushing boundaries. Our idiosyncratic approach to planting becomes a public thing here-we're standing naked in the field, so to speak.

A neigbouring gardener strolls over to say hi and kindly offers us a tray of leeks for planting. While we talk, he gaze takes in our garden. I note a flicker of concern cross his face.

"You've got potatoes," he comments, in a tone that feels like he might have said "you have warts."

"Yes, but not too many," I quickly point out, feeling a slight pang of guilt. Another gardener had already mentioned the bias against potatoes that exists at the site; a bias, not against potatoes per se, but the dreaded yellow and black striped Colorado Potato Beetle.

Survival pits species against species, gardener against gardener. I can't help thinking that if our crops fail, there will be murmurs, averted glances. And somewhere in the depths of my consciousness, a grain of a survival instinct stirs-suppose we didn't have groceries waiting on the shelves? What if we had to feed ourselves?
"And while middle-class citizens, and workmen infested with middle-class ideas admire their own rhetoric in the 'Talking Shops,' and 'practical people' are engaged in endless discussions on forms of government, we, the 'Utopian dreamers'-we shall have to consider the question of daily bread." -Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread.
A few kilometers away under a late June sky, members of the "Hamilton Eat Local Project" are stooped or crawling, hand picking the last remaining crop of strawberries at an organic farm. The desire to engage the local farm economy in a hands-on way is reaping early-and juicy-rewards, but the fleeting strawberry season almost slipped by unnoticed.