“One recent evening, I turned to the shelf in our living room that houses back issues of The Countryman and picked one at random.”
Tom Henry, “Winter Reading”, Small Farm Canada, Jan-Feb 2017
They often catch you unaware. Ordinary words on a page added to otherwise unconnected events bring back long-forgotten memories and urge you down a path you hadn’t even known was there. So it was when Tom Henry’s nostalgic Winter Reading editorial triggered memories of the gardens of my youth in war-torn England and I realized how much their spinoffs have to offer our Canadian urban communities of today.
Bomb-shelter and tiny garden notwithstanding, Mum and Dad not only kept chickens, they grew organic produce enough for a family of four and supplemented that effort by working an allotment within walking distance of our home in Bromley, Kent.
Ants, ladybugs or a little squashing ‘tween thumb and finger dealt with aphids. Bees, birds and handkerchief-sized lawns thrived without toxic interferences.
In hindsight, my parents were an integral part of an evolving movement that began in earnest in 1930 with registration of the National Allotment Society (www.nsalg.org.uk) and accelerated in times of food rationing during WWII.
Today, benefiting from lands made available by Great Britain’s National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) and by local council authorities and other organizations, around 330,000 allotments are actively being worked throughout the United Kingdom. Waiting lists for these 250-square-metre plots—and, more recently, half-plots—have topped 90,000.
So how does this play out for organic gardens in Canada and, in particular, my home province of BC, where the poverty rate remains over 13 per cent and where one in five children are living in poverty?
In a country as vast as ours, why would we need to set up a system based on postage-stamp allotments? Well, although some local governments and school districts are making land available for programs like North Vancouver’s Loutet Farm and its Edible Garden Project on the grounds of Sutherland High School (www.ediblegardenproject.com), the number of new initiatives is not keeping pace with the need for truly affordable, locally grown, organic produce. Community gardens are gaining ground in Metro Vancouver, but many children born into garden-less housing still have too few places where they can learn how to grow their own food. Residential and industrial developments are eating up Delta berry fields and Fraser Valley farms; the working poor and those who have no place at all to call home are similarly challenged.
Even with “eat local” initiatives, not enough is being done to provide a UK-style allotment system that would encourage young people—including aboriginal youth—to return to the land and increase the production of nutritious, home-grown, organic produce.
A Canada-wide network of new and existing community gardens and family-run allotments formalized on donated or leased public lands could increase awareness of organic nutrition. This lifestyle would benefit everyone—even if only as an active and healthy educational project or hobby.
What it will take for that to happen is a concerted thrust from interested people and organizations across Canada, the formation of a well-managed non profit Community Garden/Allotment Society, advice from master gardeners and small-farmer mentors, and a willingness by local government authorities to listen.
Nostalgia aside, are we up to the task?