THE GREEN FILE COLUMN BY MARK CULLEN
I spend a lot of time thinking about our youth. Perhaps having four kids in their 20s stimulates much of this thought. And right now I am a little confused. At a time when Canadians tend to eat few meals together there has never been a greater interest in food. We are shopping at the local farmers market more than ever. There is a growing interest in food preparation (check out the many popular celebrity chef shows on TV) and I know from professional experience that the interest in growing fruits and veggies at home is at an all time high.
On the other hand, instant noodles, frozen pizza and most any meal you can heat up in the microwave are growth categories in the grocery business, I am told by a reliable source.
So if we take the time to reflect on the value that we put on food I ask the question “are we becoming a nation of snackers and instant food junkies or are we making wiser decisions about our food, its origins and quality than generations before us?”
I have really enjoyed reading the book “City Farmer” Adventures in Urban Food Growing, by my friend Lorraine Johnson. Lorraine is a passionate gardener and writer. As with all of her writing she has researched and written on this topic thoughtfully and thoroughly. Here are some highlights:
– The city of Vancouver has enough land available that its inhabitants can grow all of their own vegetables within city limits.
– In future we will not be planting ornamental trees in public parks but instead fruiting trees that will have the capacity to feed the hungry in our cities.
– The presence of vegetable gardens in inner-city neighbourhoods is positively correlated with decreases in crime, trash dumping, juvenile delinquency, fires, violent deaths and mental illness.
The growing interest in community gardens and allotment gardens tells me there is a large contingency of people looking for better quality produce from ‘their own backyard.’
Community gardens are gardens supported by whole communities of people. The harvest is shared with everyone who made a contribution of effort. Often a central kitchen is provided for the use of the same community.
Allotment gardens are small areas of real estate that are planted and nurtured by an individual or two. Usually these gardens are supported by municipal government. They are great places to visit, even if you do not have an allotment. Without much effort you will see a wide variety of garden designs, plant selections and even differing methods of growing and maintaining gardens. The gardens reflect the experience of the gardener which can often be rooted in a land far from here.
Growing food outside of the privacy of your own backyard, where a fence or hedge may allow you to garden naked (if you so choose) provides benefits of its own. People who garden ‘publicly’ in a community or allotment garden expose their work to others who may have questions and observations that prove mutually helpful to the gardeners. Recipes are shared – not just for a kitchen dish but also for soil preparation and disease and insect treatment.
In Defense of Food
The current guru of ‘real food,’ Michael Pollan weighs in with this, from his book ‘In Defense of Food’: “It is hard to eat badly from the farmers market or from your garden. The number of farmers markets has more than doubled in the last ten years making it one of the fastest-growing segments of the food marketplace. Buying as much as you can from the farmers market or directly from the farm when that’s an option, is a simple act with a host of profound consequences for your health as well as for the health of the food chain you’ve now joined.”
The extra time it takes to ‘shop locally’ may be the sacrifice that we make vs. the convenience of shopping at the full selection supermarket. Chances are you won’t find everything that you need at the farmers market anyway. So off to the grocer you go: another trip, more time.
Time ‘spent’ or ‘invested’?
Why do we couch the expenditure of time in negative terms where our food is concerned? If we spend more time growing/shopping/preparing our food we are taking time away from what, exactly? TV time? Computer time? Spectator sports?
It is mid winter, a perfect time for gardeners and non-gardeners alike to take the time to think about our food culture. The simple acts of shopping local, swapping recipes, sharing the harvest with friends and neighbours, exchanging growing tips over the back fence or visiting the local farmers’ market have merits that extend beyond the immediate experience. All of this, when taken in sum is a giant part of the social binding that glues us together as a community.