Urban Gardening and Local Food: A New Sustainable Food Editor for Justmeans

As a child, I would sit in my backyard and look up at the cherry blossoms in the spring. I’d pore over seed catalogs, looking for the kits for kids – the ones with the beans, peas, and cherry tomatoes. My acreage was a vast plot of land in my parents’ front yard about a meter long and less than a meter wide. I’m sure I grew something edible in there. It was the ultimate in local food. Today, the size of my food plot is not much larger. I’m an urban gardener, with a townhouse that has a small but accommodating yard, big enough for espaliered fruit trees, blueberry bushes, and four seasons of crops. I’m experimenting with forest gardening on one side, small space urban gardening on the other.

Since the publication of Plenty: The 100 Mile Diet, the idea of local eating has made enormous leaps in popularity. Victory gardens sprout on urban lawns. The food and gardening scene in Vancouver, Canada has certainly been influenced by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon’s year-long exploration of eating locally. In this climate that is so unlike the prairies, a local grain cooperative has emerged, and the rain city residents are growing tomatoes from balconies and harvesting fruit in the urban jungle.

For over twenty years, I’ve been involved in activism. When my daughter was born, I felt the need to set down roots in new places, so I joined an emerging food organization, The Edible Garden Project. We encourage people to grow food in urban areas to feed those in need. This summer, I also began The Growing Traditions Project, an intergenerational sustainable skills mentorship program inspired and supported by Vancouver’s Sustainable Living Arts School.

As Canadians celebrate our Thanksgiving weekend, our family is blessed to eat local and organic food. The jam that adorns our weekend breakfast can be traced back to several local farms. For the past two years, I’ve engineered a sort of blueberry madness: in August, I take a truck out to a local farm for the day and return with 1000 pounds of blueberries, which my friends and acquaintances pick up far into the evening. Last year, a local bear made his way up the driveway to take a look, too. As a family, we are members of a local farm and get a share full of plenty of beets, greens, squash and carrots every week throughout the summer and fall. This year, we also became members of the first urban grain cooperative in the Vancouver area, and my freezer is full of locally-grown, locally-milled flour. That might not seem like much to prairie folk, but to an urbanite from the rainforest, it’s an accomplishment.

The world of local and sustainable food is as big as the locales that we humans grow it in, and the culture and ethics of food are ever-shifting. I look forward to exploring these places, people, and questions with you.