“However many years she lived, Mary always felt that ‘she should never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow’.”
~ Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
So many things have happened in these last two weeks that I haven’t had the time to report here…
One of the most exciting things was that I accepted to become a community garden coordinator for the first (and newly born) Food Action Coalition community garden, Food for Thought, adjacent to South Surrey Food Bank.
Although I have been growing vegetables and herbs on containers and a small plot at my townhouse for a few years, having an allotment in the garden creates a new challenge as well as huge possibilities.
“When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands”. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
The garden has 24 plots and a small strip garden to experiment with Permaculture and other exciting things. We still need to build a shed for the tools, a compost box, a sink station and a gazebo for meetings and workshops. Most plots have already been assigned and I’ll meet the gardeners on the 30th.
Just organizing the first meeting activities is already exciting. I’ll sow some winter cover crops to prepare and protect the soil for next spring (some rye and clover, hope it is not too late as October is almost gone and the cold has arrived), and will plan next year’s calendar, garden committee and events with my “team of gardeners”.
While the Food Action Coalition is now moving on to create a second garden in North Surrey for next calendar year, I start to think how quickly and magically all this has happened: I learn about Surrey/White Rock Food Action Coalition last March (at that time, it wasn’t a reality yet, as they had not yet had their first meeting). It was at that first meeting in May (this year) when we all voted for this community garden. In only four months it was a reality and now I’m its coordinator!
I’m a firm believer that food is the centre of all our problems as well as our solutions: we all eat (no matter who we are, where we live or what we do for a living) and food affects our health and survival, our mood and even choices (one of the reasons we study and work is to make sure there will be “bread at our table”). The way food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed and its leftovers managed affect the health of ecosystems, including decisions we make around the building of infrastructure, homes and transportation means. Food affects Climate Change and is affected by it: if we produce, distribute and consume food sustainably, we will cut emissions and heal ecosystems, water systems, etc. With the same token, if we can still manage mitigation (in relation with Climate Change) this will affect food production positively. If not, the changing climate will create droughts and floods and increase unpredictability and impact of storms, hurricanes, etc., affecting the production and distribution of food.
As mitigation efforts (for Climate Change) seem to be abandoned or not as strong as they should, we need to move towards adaptation: it is a way of saying that we gave up? I don’t think so. It is a way of saying that we need to have a back-up plan because food systems may become seriously affected and lots of people will suffer if we don’t move fast enough.
“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.”
~ Bill Mollison
While politicians and other leaders continue talking about sustainability with nice words and creating nice empty books and websites but no real and tangible things, we (the people of this world) need to start taking action: stockpiling cans and water at home won’t do it, as food will be eventually gone. Stockpiling seed buckets is similarly hopeless if you have never learned how to grow and preserve food and have no piece of land or even a container with soil on it.
One of the functions of a community garden is to teach people how to grow food. How to save seeds and how to prepare and repair the soil. The learning happens in community, which makes it even more important in challenging times.
Community gardens started as far as 1820 as a way to offer breathing space in crowded and rapidly growing industrial cities. Gardens were also used through 1930 and in WWII as a way to minimize hunger during the great depression and the second war. They had a renaissance in the 70s with the surge of the environmental movement and then another in the 90s. But now and after the many local and global economic crises of these times, community gardens and urban farming are living another, renewed renaissance period that may have come to stay.
“Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating.”
~ Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
With cities more crowded than ever, people living in small apartments or townhouses and disconnected from land, food production and their own neighbours, community gardens have the attraction of making you the owner of your own decisions about food.
Community gardens allow you to teach your children about food and community involvement and true democracy.
In my case, I can’t wait to start applying all kind of Permaculture principles and techniques not only to my plot, but to all the process of building community.
I’m starting to dream of a Permaculture Way full of community workshops, social entrepreneurship and resilience building.
“Tree planting is always a utopian enterprise, it seems to me, a wager on a future the planter doesn’t necessarily expect to witness.”
~ Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education