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!

How To: Make Hanging Lettuce Planters

By Catherine Winter

There’s a marmot (groundhog) in my garden.

That is to say, there’s a marmot that lives on my land, but I often find him plopped in my potager garden, cramming sorrel and lettuce and various tender herbs into his face, since he knows he’s not in any danger from me. Unfortunately, this also means that rabbits and other small herbivores take a cue from him and follow suit, leading to my own food supply being rather gnawed upon and depleted.

The good news is that I’ve discovered a way around this, at least as far as lettuce is concerned: hanging planters.

Hanging-Lettuce-Planter

Whether you’re short on garden space or you like to keep your food within easy reach, hanging lettuce planters are great options for pretty much any growing zone. They’re easy to make, can be grown indoors or outside, and are as delicious as they are decorative.

What You’ll Need:

  • A hanging wire cage
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Lettuce seedlings

Line your wire cage with a bit of sphagnum moss, then draw some lettuce seedlings through the bars on all sides. Layer with more sphagnum moss, and repeat until the cage is full enough to be secure, so the seedlings won’t just fall out.

Planter

Water this thoroughly and hang in a spot where it gets moderate sunlight for the better part of the day, as lettuce doesn’t thrive in direct, continuous sunshine. Keep the basket fairly well watered, and just snip bits of lettuce off throughout the season as needed. You can either tuck several lettuce varieties into a single basket, or, if you have enough space, hang a few of these baskets around with different lettuce varieties in each, so you can mix your greens and have an assortment of different textures and flavours.

Happy growing!

 

 

Victory is Sustainable: Local, Seasonal Food is the Way to Grow

By Catherine Winter

The first thing I saw when I woke this morning was an article about food security that a dear friend of mine had sent me. Although the piece was about food shortages in Great Britain, the subject matter is something that all of us can relate to, regardless of our location. Most of the food sold in grocery stores across the UK is shipped in from mainland Europe: all those tomatoes, eggplants, zucchinis, and peppers that British people like to eat year-round have to be imported from Mediterranean countries, but inclement weather has destroyed countless crops there, leaving British supermarkets with empty shelves.

This is obviously not just a problem that people in the UK are contending with. Here in rural Quebec, I’ve often seen single heads of broccoli or cauliflower priced at $8 apiece in January or February, and I won’t even tell you how much I’ve paid for lemons or avocados. South America provides most of our produce during our winter months, and when crop failures occur there, prices quadruple here.

emptyshelves

For several years now, we have all been urged to eat more locally and seasonally, but that really isn’t just a serving suggestion anymore, if you’ll pardon that (horrible) pun. With climate shifts happening around the world, we really cannot rely on produce grown in distant lands to fill our plates: all it takes is a sudden freak hailstorm or heat wave to obliterate an entire crop, and we’re left hungry. The paltry bits of produce that do make it onto shelves are hideously overpriced, and are also rationed so people can’t hoard them.

Thanks to global trade, we have all become very spoiled when it comes to our eating habits. Most of us here in the northern hemisphere have the luxury of being able to enjoy the same iceberg lettuce salads in January that we eat in July, and markets are generally packed with strawberries for Valentine’s day in the dead of February. This is a far cry from what our ancestors were used to eating during the colder months: sure, many of them canned and pickled summer fruits and vegetables to enjoy as occasional indulgences over the winter, but as far as fresh vegetables went, they’d have eaten mostly root vegetables and hardy greens like cabbage and kale, in hearty, warming fare such as soups, stews, and porridges.

Some people aren’t even aware of what seasonal eating really means, or they have misconceptions that the only good, real foods are available in summer and autumn—that in wintertime, they’d be relegated to tree bark and waxy rutabagas (and they have no idea wtf to do with rutabagas). They may not realise that hardy greens like brassicas and lettuces can be grown right through the winter in most growing zones, that plenty of food can be grown indoors, and that many types of thick-skinned produce (like squash, pumpkin, apples, etc.) can stay fresh right through the winter months if stored properly, such as in sand or straw. A wonderful bowl of curried, roasted squash soup with goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds is a perfect example of seasonal winter cuisine, and it doesn’t sound all that terrible, does it?

soup

To many people, however, root vegetables and such might not sound like the most appetizing fare, considering how most of us are accustomed to the luxury of imported fruits and veg. We may crave cherries and watermelon in January, but eating seasonal, local fare is a much more sustainable practice in the long run. Continued erratic weather patterns can disrupt food security everywhere, and if we really want to ensure that we don’t go hungry, then we have to take matters into our own hands. This means cultivating our own food wherever and whenever possible, and buying local produce that’s in season.

The solution may sound a bit extreme and paranoid, but if we take a look at how prevalent crop failure has been worldwide over the last few years, it’s really not all that extreme at all, is it?

urbanfarmDuring the second World War, many of our grandparents, or even great-grandparents at this point, cultivated what were then known as “Victory Gardens“. Since the food that was grown on most farms went to feeding servicemen involved in the war effort, food shortages became the norm across North America and Great Britain. As such, just about every family with a patch of yard space tried to grow as much food as possible. Front and back yards were transformed into vegetable gardens, and local sports fields and golf courses were turned into allotment gardens for people who didn’t have yards in which to grow their own food.

You may be aware of the  “Food, Not Lawns” movement that’s been gaining traction over the last couple of decades, and its base concept has never been more powerful than right now. Lawns are pretty much useless leftovers from a time when people grew grass in order to show that they were wealthy enough that they didn’t need a garden in which to grow their own food, but people all over the world are discarding that ridiculous idea and realising just how wonderful it is to take an active role in their own food security. Some people are even looking back at how wartime gardens were designed in order to inform their own gardening plans.

ww2-victory-garden

The chart above uses a 25 x 50 foot plot example to plan out a family’s food cultivation, but a hell of a lot can be grown in even a fraction of that space. Square foot gardening, vertical trellises, permaculture techniques such as keyhole gardens or spirals… there are countless techniques that can be used to maximise space and grow as much as possible in whatever space is available.

Food can be grown anywhere. If you have a sunny window, a balcony, an urban patio or a suburban backyard, you can grow at least some of your own food. You can revel in sweet green peas in spring and summer, tomatoes and potatoes in autumn, kale and beets in wintertime. Whatever isn’t eaten immediately can be preserved to be eaten over the winter: you can pickle your carrots and cucumbers, transform cabbage into sauerkraut, make strawberries into jam, freeze green beans.

It’s about time that we stop relying on far-away countries to provide our food for us, and take our nourishment into our own hands: it doesn’t require much space, and the future of food security pretty much depends on us doing so.

canning-food