Friday, January 30, 2009

Urban agriculture for the landless

Over the last couple years, I've been reading more and more stories about people making use of otherwise ignored space in cities. Some are guerilla gardeners, sneaking about in the dark of night and making the grey city more colourful. Others are discovering rooftop gardening. And some are knocking on doors and asking their neighbours if they could plant some veggies in that backyard they never use.

That last group came to mind today, while reading "A farm in your yard," Pamela Wood's story in The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, MD. It's the story of a city dweller with little land, but a hankerin' to be a-farmin'. Like me, she seems to want to grow food and feel that connection with nature. But giving up the city is either impossible or just an unsavoury thought for most of us. So, by getting neighbours to let her farm a bit of their yard in return for a share of the produce, Eliza Toomey is finding a way to have the best of both worlds.

The story also makes reference to many other places around the Unites States where people are doing similar things, making it an inspiring read.

There have been similar stories in papers and magazines all over North America, and you can expect to read more. The localvore movement is one of the drivers, fuelled by books such as "The 100-mile diet." The economy is another factor. In England, gardeners are turning their backs on exotic flowers and clamouring for packets of carrot, broccoli and cucumber seeds, I recently read in one of the British papers (thought it was the Indy, though I can't find the article now).

I've certainly seen articles about people here in Toronto taking a similar approach to Ms. Toomey. There are entire organizations devoted to urban agriculture. If you're interested, the Food Share website is a good place to start. It's worth exploring anyway, as the group takes an innovative and multifaceted approach to the problem of hunger in the city. In 2005, a Ryerson urban and regional planning student named Tara Johnson, wrote a paper on urban agriculture that gets into a bit more detail about the promise and barriers of community and entrepreneurial urban gardens and their role in community economic development. You can access the paper (a Word file) here.

My little plot isn't much. But, as I've said before, I'm hoping it will supply a decent quantity of veg this summer. It's a couple hundred square feet, up from about 60 last year. If it works well and I find that I want to take on more next year, then I might follow Ms. Toomey's lead and start knocking on neighbour's doors. But for now, I'll just peruse the seed catalogues and dream of crisp, fresh lettuces.

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