Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

A backyard harvest

In a large field? Or your apartment balcony? Or maybe grocery store shelves?

When I was little, my family had a little garden plot behind our garage. I'm sure none of my friends even saw it. We had some tomato plants and peppers, but the thing I remember most was the massive rosemary bush. I remember convincing my mom to get me a little 2'X8" garden box once. I was going to plant carrots. That never happened, and I sort of lost interest in any sort of gardening, but for the last month, I have had the song "Oats, Green Beans, and Barley Grow" stuck in my head. It poses an important question: Do you or I or anyone know, how oats, green beans, and barley grow? Nope. Not in any sort of detail at least. I don't think it has much to do with stamping and clapping, as the song suggests, but I thought I would do something about it.

I picked up from the library (and quickly finished- it's not a difficult read) City Farmer, by Lorraine Johnson. It is an interesting book exploring different aspects of farming in the least expected place: anywhere there is land. Usually we feel edible plants must be found outside of the city boundaries. Picture pumpkins growing in New York. It just does not seem to jive well with our concepts of urbanization. However, Johnson argues that cities are some of the best places to grow your food.
First of all, it's where the people are. Sure, those people can go to grocery stores, and there will always be some need for that, but home grown food is so much tastier, healthier, and gives us a connection to our health.
Second, there is a community. Gardening is a lot of work, and goes by much more quickly if you are doing it with friends. Schools are major part of urban development, and gardens on school land provide educational opportunities.
Possibly the most important argument for urban agriculture is the amount of land available. At first it may seem disguised, but the stats reveal a lot. About one third of Detroit is abandoned land. My favorite passage from this book is one that describes the amount of land available in Vancouver, BC. A man named Michael Levenston calculated out how much of its own food Vancouver could grow. He took the amount of land available, adjusted it (for example, not everyone is going to want a garden in their backyard, and some land is too shady), and approximated yield. What he found is that Vancouver can produce a surplus of vegetables for their population. Crazy.

Johnston suggests just plant something. Anything. It doesn't have to take up your whole yard, or even part. It could be as simple as a few potted herbs or a tomato plant. It is weird to be thinking of gardening this time of year in Nova Scotia. There is no green in sight, except for stop lights and green painted houses. Everything is a gloomy white, but soon spring will be here. It's worth a thought, though.

Picture by Lynn Szwalkiewicz. Creative Commons Copyright license, some rights reserved.
Statistics taken from City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing by Lorraine Johnson, 2010.


Yarit said...

I`ve always have this though of gardening in my backyard. And now that you mention it I might be doing it :)

Mom said...

That Rosemary plant was the hardiest plant I have ever known. Even when we cut it back drastically, it always came back and thrived. Do you remember your Grandma Hutch's garden. It was huge.