When Goals Meet Opposition…

By Catherine Winter

Friends and family members from the previous generation (or two) tend to be very attached to their idea of a pristine green lawn. That’s what’s considered “nice” and aesthetically pleasing: a patch of dandelion-free, lush greenery that would fit in perfectly in Stepford.

Anyone who’s read Food Not Lawns, or delved into the history of agriculture in North America and Europe, is aware that lawns have been cultivated for the sake of vanity. People cultivated swathes of empty property to prove their affluence: they had enough money that they didn’t need to lower themselves by growing their own food. They could pay other people to toil for them, and buy their food from them.

This is a very difficult mindset to shake.

Holding-herbs

“Weeds”

One of my family members is a rather wonderful person who is very, very fond of the aforementioned pristine lawns. When I decided to let my land go wild one year instead of diligently hacking the lawns and side areas down with a mower and weed whacker, I was reprimanded quite firmly for letting all those “weeds” grow. I picked five examples of what they were gazing upon with disdain, and asked them to identify said plants.

“They’re weeds”.

Okay, that’s how you’ve been taught to view them, but what species are they? Tell me their names.

“Weeds”.

…okay then.
Those “weeds” were lamb’s quarters, shepherd’s purse, yarrow, St. John’s wort, and evening primrose: five wonderful edible and medicinal plants that are valued the world over. In addition to those were many species of indigenous flowers all around the periphery, from asters and violets to red clover, which is invaluable for replenishing depleted soil with much-needed nitrogen.

Related post: 7 Healing Herbs for Your Garden

I burbled about all of these and talked about how beneficial they all were, but my enthusiasm was merely met with a blank stare, so I brought the cuttings indoors and hung them to dry for later. We just had to agree to disagree on the value of these plants, and cultivate our respective lawns in the ways that we felt were best for us as individuals. Even if we did have contempt for each other’s leanings, we kept that to ourselves, ye know?

This gets a bit tricker when the person who has contempt for your wish to transform your lawn into a lush food garden has equal say in its cultivation, or lack thereof. What happens if you’re living with aging parents who refuse to even consider it? Or if your partner is terrified of what the neighbours will think when yours is the only lawn covered in kale and zucchini instead of grass like everyone else’s? (Or even if your neighbours themselves want to put the kibosh on your gardening dreams?)

Books

Resources to Support Your Stance

A lot of people have difficulty accepting family members’ arguments as being valid, especially if there’s a parent/child dynamic going on. Many parents of adult children still view their offspring as “kids”, and as such don’t take them seriously. Honestly, I know some people with PhDs whose parents insist upon fact-checking whatever they say because well, they’re their kids, right? What do they know?

A similar dynamic can occur if you’re renting a home from someone of the previous generation: they might also see you in a similar light, and you’ll be hard-pressed to convince them of your reasoning to transform what they currently value as a pristine lawn space to a “messy” garden.

You can often encourage more openminded thinking on their part by presenting them with materials that support your goals, especially if they’ve been written or supported by people whom your parent/spouse/landlord respects. Citing examples by scientists like David Suzuki in support of converting lawns into gardens may help to open their minds a little, and if they’re open to reading about the subject, books like Gaia’s Garden and Food Not Lawns may also do a world of good.

Tomato-seedling

Compromise

If they still flat-out refuse to allow the lawn to be transformed, it might help to create a compromise of some sort. Find out what their reasons are for refusing, and then work together to find a solution that can bridge the gap.

For example, they’re afraid things will look unkempt if the lawn is ripped out in favour of edibles, ask if growing a few vegetables and herbs in pretty planters and hanging baskets would be an acceptable option. Do they find the idea of growing food at home to be “demeaning”? Call up statistics on the nutrient density of organic, homegrown food, and the many science-proven health benefits to growing your own. You can even sweeten the pot by showing them how much money they can save by growing even a few simple vegetables: just about everyone appreciates that aspect of homegrown food. If any of your neighbours already use their lawns for food gardens, chat with them, see how they overcame their own obstacles, and use them as examples of what’s possible. (Note: this is also a great opportunity to start a community seed-sharing network.)

Related post: Start a Community Seed Bank

Just about any situation can be negotiated in a way that can make all parties feel heard, respected, and empowered… and even if you just end up able to grow a single tomato plant in a container, it’s a small victory, and sets a precedent: you’ll be able to grow more next season.

Have you faced difficulty in establishing your own garden? How did you solve the issue? Please let us know!

spring, spring flowers, spring flower, spring gardening, zone 5a, Ontario gardening, spring garden canada, bee, pollinators

Spring.

By MK Martin

I have yet to perfect Hygge. For those of you who didn’t see the ubiquitous feed post concerning this ‘art’, it is all about enjoying winter. Enjoying the books by cozy fires, the spiced drinks, the rich food, the cheer and the togetherness. I love books, but reading by the fire makes me overheat. Hot drinks for me are coffee or Earl Grey. Do not offer me other things, I am not interested in a spice cabinet-filled wine cup. Rich food is lovely, for the feast days, the days after the harvest and in the middle of lining up food for winter. Cheer is something that wanes after a day or so, and togetherness becomes cloying once all the baubles of holiday have been packed away. I will take some turns tromping through the deepening snow, to capture rare moments of crystalline rainbow refraction through the ice, to feel the far away sun on my face and to clean my lungs with deep, hidden breaths.

Pink-flower

After a few turns, though, give me spring. Give me melting snow and ephemeral ice on the trails, turning into puddly poo ponds: the stuff that will give us trout lily, ramps, and morels in what seems like the blink of an eye. Give me blustery, moorish mornings with ruffled robin feathers and lost umbrellas. Give me birdsong. The cacophonous cackle of the grackle, the invisible staccato of the chickadee, the crooning cry or startled whinny of the mourning dove all blending together into beauty, even though the songs themselves are territorial. Give me rain. Fat bullet drops hurtling toward the earth and spitting in my eye, or fine, hazy mist, covering the awakening green with eye catching droplets, curling my hair and surrounding my skin with negative ions. Paint me in dirt and line my pockets with seeds.

Ants

For me, getting through winter isn’t about enjoying it for what it is. It’s all about The Dream. Every year at Imbolc (St. Brigid’s, February 1st), for the past 8 years, I begin The Dream for the gardening season. This year’s dream is the most photogenic yet, with lovingly put together brown paper Jardiniere journals (no lines!) and handmade ceramic receptacles filled with pens, pre-season clay pot sales and piles of heirloom seed catalogues.

Planting-seeds

Arranged, just so, I feel that Martha glow. If you didn’t know, Martha has her garden planning calendar available for all to see, where we can discover there is no time off when it comes to gardening. As soon as your dirt is frozen and slumbering, you should be scouring your resources, planning your rotation, and penciling in your sow by dates.

Lily-of-the-valley

We began in zone 4b eight years ago and had three, charmed, food-filled years, free of pesticides and glorious weather. And then, things began to change. We are now considered zone 5a, and the weather has been confused for awhile. We are still trying to clean our groundwater from the two years neighbours poured roundup onto their ancient chestnut tree, so, this year will see pots of salad and steaming greens, herbs and carrots, while I work toward making our main beds home to flowers. The initial journey was about food security, but over the years, one’s eye begins to focus closer upon the intricacies and smallness of garden workings.

Hummingbird

As the collective mind shifts, and access to quality CSA produce increases, the food security that becomes most important right now is that of the bee, the bird, the bat, insects of all kinds and the worm. We’ve even attracted a fox this far up, to set after the bunchy bunnies that have moved in. Our ‘sleepy’ town has begun to burst at the seams in the name of progress, destroying long standing habitats, flushing creatures out. The community complains a fox can be see in plain sight during the day, rather than all stopping together, to admire it and send it on its way. These are creatures for whom time has no
meaning, as life is the clearest meaning of all, and they never question their purpose. Freedom is in their function.

Frog

My hope is to create a symbiotic space, more than just feeding out of hand. To be a haven for plants long slandered as weeds, brush the native seeds of wildflower-lined trails from my clothes into the grass, and see what else we can invite.

Green-plant

seed-sharing, seeds, seed bank, community seed bank, sharing seeds

New Year, New Opportunity to Create a Community Seed Bank

By Catherine Winter

The holidays are coming to an end soon, and those of us in the northern hemisphere now have a solid chunk of winter to slog through. This is the most frustrating time of year for most gardeners, as unless one lives in one of the warmer patches of North America or Europe (I’m looking at you, Texans and Spaniards), winter consists of snow, sleet, biting winds, and grey skies.

One saving grace about the winter months is that being forced to cocoon indoors allows us the opportunity to make plans for the coming growing season. It’s also a perfect opportunity to reconnect with friends… and if you put those two together, the conditions are ideal for creating a truly spectacular community seed bank.

A benefit to creating a seed bank in your own neighbourhood is that it’s more than likely that conditions will be quite constant in  your area: those who live near you will be contending with the same growing zone, rainfall, and similar soil conditions, as opposed to trading seeds with friends who live across the continent. This makes comparing growing notes much easier, and gives everyone a solid idea about what will or will not thrive in your area.

organic-seeds

How to Build Your Seed Bank

If you haven’t done so yet, request seed catalogues from a few organic/heirloom seed companies. Few things can brighten up a dismal winter day like flipping through a colourful booklet full of photos of all the vegetables and herbs that you can grow in a few short months. It’s important to use only organic seeds, as the plants that grow from them will be much more nourishing than those that are conventionally grown (i.e. genetically modified and pumped full of insecticides.) Your plants will be healthier, you’ll be healthier, and you’ll be able to save viable seeds from them for next year’s garden… and to share with your friends.

A few great companies to order from are the following:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Heritage Harvest Seeds

High Mowing Seeds

Salt Spring Seeds

Sustainable Seed Company

Then, you just need to gather some friends together for coffee or dinner, and discuss options.

One of the goals of community seed bank creation is that people can split the cost of organic packets and share the seeds around, instead of each individual making a huge investment. A typical seed packet contains between 30 and 300 seeds, depending on the plant to be cultivated, so a small group of people can grow a huge variety of different foods at very low cost. Let’s take a look at this breakdown as an example:

  • Friend 1: Three types of lettuce, and cucumbers ($10)
  • Friend 2: Kale, cabbage, carrots, and beets ($10)
  • Friend 3: Three varieties of tomatoes, and basil ($10)
  • Friend 4: Squash, pole beans, bush beans, thyme ($10)
  • Friend 5: Carrots, beets, oregano, leeks ($10)
  • Friend 6: Chard, onions, spinach, dill ($10)
  • Friend 7: Mesclun greens, assorted sweet peppers, peas, radishes ($10)
  • Friend 8: Melon, broccoli rabe, jalapeños, celeriac ($10)

That’s just a $10 investment per person, and if all the orders go in together, there will be just one small shipping fee. In turn, every person gets 32 edible plant varieties to cultivate. Isn’t that a much better investment than for each friend to pay $80 for the same number of plants, especially if they’d only use a fraction of the seeds in each packet that season?

Even if your group decides that they really only like the types of vegetables that can easily be turned into salads, there are dozens of tomato, lettuce, cucumber, and leafy green species to explore. If your group consists of tomato lovers, each of you could have over 20 different varieties growing in your yard for just a few dollars!

Sharing resources like this just makes sense on so many levels.

Related Post: Greens to Grow Indoors This Winter

friends-talking

Gathering the Community

This is also a great chance to branch out from your immediate friend/family circle and engage others in your community. The average person doesn’t know too many people in their neighbourhood aside from their immediate next-door neighbours, so putting up a notice on public boards (like in local shops or religious institutions) or even popping printed flyers into mailboxes is a good way to connect. You can create a Facebook group page, arrange meetings at your community centre, and cultivate great new relationships alongside flourishing gardens.

Multicultural neighbourhoods are also ideal for branching outside of regular comfort zones in terms of the vegetables and herbs that you might not be familiar with. When I was still living in Toronto, the neighbours around me were Chinese, Tibetan, Jamaican, Nigerian, Ukrainian, Portuguese, and Bolivian. By chatting with them and sharing items from one another’s gardens, I had the opportunity to try callaloo (amaranth leaves), bitter melon, tatsoi, and a huge variety of herbs that I had never tried before.

Community seed banks really are ideal ways to cultivate biodiversity, and help groups of people get a head start on food security for a very small investment. You might also find that you develop some wonderful friendships along the way too.

Photos via World Bank Photo Collection and Wikimedia commons.