Checking out community gardens on excellent bike tour
I never knew so many cyclists would be interested in community gardens. Gardening and cycling, two of my long term favourites. Last Sunday, after a failed attempt a year before, I finally made it to the Just Food community garden tour. “Just Food’s mission is to work towards a vibrant, just and sustainable food system in the Ottawa region. Just Food is a grassroots, non-profit organization that includes staff, volunteers, community partners, members and funders“, says their website.
Both my grandfathers in Holland grew vegetables commercially in the thirties and in fact, one of them was one of the first who built a greenhouse in which you could actually walk. He apparently also invented a system to open a whole row of windows with one winch. Before that time, you’d have acres of glass boxes of probably 8 inches high. Countless are the stories of the hard work, getting up at 4 am and harvesting cucumbers at ankle level. Sadly both my grandfathers passed away at a very young age, one in 1946 in his late 30’s and the other one in 1961 at age 59 (that doesn’t bode well for yours truly, now I come to think about it). I never met my grandfathers.
With this background, I have a special interest in how people would grow food in the city. What better way than doing this Just Food self guided tour and cruise through Ottawa. Or so I thought. Little did I know, that a) it was a guided tour and b) 60 others decided to do the same. My planned hour and a half turned into a full fletched four hours sightseeing tour including picnic.
First, you have to understand that there is a lot of idealism here. I think for most people growing food is more of an educational experience than a practical one. Second, growing vegetables requires a lot of dedication: plots in the wrong place, people giving up, watering every day, seeds from the forest blowing in, too much shade (vegetables love sun, my friends), depleted soil, disappointing harvests (too dry or too wet). And when the crop is ready, it gets stolen by animals and humans (the difference is hard to tell sometimes) Fortunately, many are not deterred and manage decent plots. Other plots looked like the renter had run away in despair months ago, never to return.
The biggest disappointment is disappearing food. As Sue joked: “We started with welcome signs, than added a ‘Don’t harvest the vegetables‘ sign”. They are now (tongue in cheek) ready to put signs up with “Back off, watch for nuclear radiation‘ to deter people from taking food. O, the harsh realities of life in the city.
It was interesting to hear that Fiskars sponsored communities to grow vegetables by coming in for a day and build a garden in one day, about experiments with rotting logs that always stay moist, and community areas where everyone looks after the plot and harvest what is needed from a communal area. Many of the gardens are part of a housing or community cooperation. It works remarkably well and no one has been caught carrying off a wheel barrow full of carrots.
We visited about seven gardens, all tucked away and none of them very visible. The bike ride made for a very social experience with a wonderful mix of different people although I think half of the participants were younger women. I also got to places where I would never really go, like a fairly hidden park that I only knew from Google Earth.
If you get a chance to participate next year, don’t hesitate. It is no sweat, slow cycling (12 k/hr or so when we were actually moving), but the social part is just as much fun as the vegetable and flower observations. It was a bit hard to get info out of some of the volunteers, I would have liked to hear a bit more about how all these gardens come about, what the obstacles are, how a volunteer based group works (and not) etc. Also -but I was a bit late- an info snippet on Just Food as an organisation. (Update: info was given at the start). With 60 people, it is better to split in two groups as getting 60 people into action takes quite some time, not to mention the wait for traffic light cycles.
For the rest, I can’t wait until next year. Knowing myself how much time it takes to organise a seemingly simple event, I think the organisers, Tyler and Grace, did a great job. Time for a Twitter Hashtag though. What about #ottjustfood or #ottfood, as in #ottbike and #ottwalk?