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Our First Farm Season

It has been a long while since my last blog. We moved to our new property in August 2017 and have been busy unpacking, landscaping, planting herbs and berry bushes, building garden beds as well as expanding the gardens.

Our farm stand is now open on the weekends where we sell seasonal produce including culinary and medicinal herbs, edible flowers, . As of June 1, 2018, phase one of landscaping/planting is done. I have two more phases in mind…

We are so excited about the beautiful weather on Vancouver Island that is making the plants grow and thrive. Pollinators are out making swift work of the polyculture we deliberately established. Our organic compost is coming along wonderfully with the help of comfrey and stinging nettle which are high in nitrogen. It will be ready for use in the fall to support the underground ecosystem – good food grows from good soil.

I have been busy over the winter working on a Chartered Herbalist Diploma from Dominion Herbal College in Vancouver, British Columbia. The final exam was three days ago. I am happy to report that I passed and am officially a Chartered Herbalist.

I have always loved and felt a deep connection with nature. Studying herbalism and traditional medicine, which I am deeply passionate about, has set that need for connection and ancient wisdom ablaze once more. It is amazing that just a few generations ago, herbs and botanicals were the go to medicine for common complains in North America; a way to heal on physiological, emotional and energetic levels using nature’s compound remedies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) promotes Traditional Medicine and states the following:

  • Traditional medicine has intrinsic value, and in recognition fo this fact, it should be promoted and its potential developed for the wider use and benefit of mankind.
  • Traditional medicine has certain advantages over imported systems of medicine, because as an integral part of the people’s culture, it is particularly effective in solving certain cultural health problems.
  • traditional medicine contributes greatly to scientific medicine, thus justifying its development from the Western biomedical perspective.

One can certainly spend a lifetime learning about this beautiful planet and its medicine.


Until next time, here’s a walk through our garden!




French sorrel salad, kale, dill, edible flowers (violas, pansies, English daisies)
A cake topped with our edile flowers – had to share this


Beautiful Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)



Art beneath our 100-year-old cherry tree


Strawberry blossoms
Apple blossoms
A delightful visitor


Wild Rose blossoms
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)


Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)


Borage (Borago officinalis)



Garden Rue (Ruta graveolens)






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Urban Garden Harvest ~ Early June

It is early June and here are some of the delicious vegetables coming out of our urban garden. Our first harvest included Cherry Belle Radishes, lettuce, spinach and all kinds of herbs including dill, cilantro, parsley, lemon balm, bergamot, lemon verbena, marjoram, thyme, oregano, holy basil, and rosemary.


The kids enjoyed harvesting the radishes, big and small. They are excited about growing their own food. Planting, watering, harvesting and taking care of a garden are a good life skill that may just come in handy.  When we started our Urban Garden in the Front Yard, we wanted it to be a full contact sport.


Different kinds of lettuce and spinach are in full force. I love running out the front door and chopping fresh veggies and herbs for a nice salad to go with dinner or as a big part of dinner. The lettuce and spinach regrow relatively quickly so we are able to enjoy a lovely salad everyday. There is something wonderful about eating produce cut minutes before it is consumed.


Below is a sample of the salads we have been making over the last few weeks.

Radishes, spinach, lettuce and dwarf kale. Fresh dill, holy basil, lemon verbena, cilantro and parsley make it into the salad, too.

I keep the vinaigrette simple, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, 1 table spoon of Balsamic Vinegar, 1 tablespoon of real Maple Syrup.


Strawberries are almost ready. They will make a fantastic addition to salads. That is, if they don’t get eaten up first.


Nasturtium flowers are edible and add a lovely decoration and taste to any salad. Here is our fist flower.




All photographs are original by Jane Grueber.



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Good Health Outcomes Start with Access to Good Food

“As there is enough food in the world, hunger is a result of political decisions. Food insecurity results from ineffective policies (social, agricultural, economic and health) at local, national and global levels  and from decisions which do not consider the elimination of poverty, hunger, and food insecurity, and the development of sustainable food systems to be priority issues.”

~Laura Kalina in Building Food Security in Canada: From Hunger to Sustainable Food Systems: A Community Guide 2nd edition.

It is possible that all we need to sustain, nourish and heal grows on this planet. Equitable access to produce and food that has been grown or raised without off farm inputs is, in my opinion, a fundamental right, not a privilege reserved for those who can afford it. The United Nations has stated their position as such for a long time. Seventy years, in fact.


Poor Health Outcomes linked to Food Insecurity

A 2016 report from an interdisciplinary research team at the University of Toronto (PROOF), Ontario, Canada worked with the British Columbia Provincial Health Ministry to determine what factors contribute to poor health and poor health outcomes in British Columbia.

They used information gathered from self-report Community Wellness Surveys (completed 2005-2012) to evaluate various factors affecting overall population health including mental health and physical health.

They found that one (of several) indicator linked to poor health outcomes was Household Food Insecurity – ‘households not being able to afford the nutritious food they need to either maintain good health or successfully manage chronic health conditions.'(1)

Where’s the PROOF?

The following 13 minute video beautifully sums up PROOF’s research findings regarding Household Food Insecurity in Canada. One of the researchers, Valerie Tarasuk, tells it like it is and it ain’t pretty.

My hope is that health professionals, allied health professionals, social workers, teachers, early childhood educators and others who work with families watch this video and take into consideration the seemingly innocuous, yet very real factors that affect ‘best possible outcomes’ when it comes to health and well-being.

Before pointing fingers and exclaiming NIMBY, PROOF found that 65 percent of people in British Columbia (and Canada) who could not afford to put balanced and nutritious meals on the table were working families.

The provincial health authority with the highest rate of food insecurity in British Columbia was the Vancouver Island Health Authority with food insecurity rates at 25 percent. Most numbers across British Columbia and Canada (with the exception of the Northern Territories which are significantly worse) hovered just over 10 percent.

Implications of Undernourishment

Given the significant implications of undernourishment, these numbers should be concerning. It is alarming that children living in Central Vancouver Island are almost twice as likely to have communication and cognitive difficulties as children living on mainland BC. Adults and children are also more likely to have chronic illnesses and life expectancy is just below the BC average.

Are these poor health outcomes the result of higher rates of food insecurity?  According to PROOF’s research, the higher the food insecurity, the poorer the health outcomes. In their report, they specifically state that “food security is fundamental and necessary for healthy eating” (pg. 4).

They go on to discuss the potential health and social challenges that may arise from household food insecurity:

  1. Birth outcomes and maternal health – poor nutrition during pregnancy can have a negative impact on both mother and infant.

  2. Child development – among Canadian children and youth, food insecurity is associated with iron deficiency anemia and has been linked to the subsequent development of a variety of chronic conditions, including asthma and depression. According to PROOF, A Quebec study observed a two-fold increase in the likelihood of persistent hyperactivity/inattention among children eight years old and younger who experienced food insecurity between ages one and a half and four and a half years, even after accounting for family socioeconomic circumstances and parental mental health. In central Vancouver Island, preschool children were almost twice as likely as children from the rest of BC to be at risk for poor communication and cognitive outcomes (language delay, reading, writing and numeracy skills) based on the Vancouver Island Local Area Profile from 2014.

  3. Health Status and Chronic Diseases – food insecure individuals report higher levels of poor or fair self-rated health, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, food allergies.  In Central Vancouver Island the top two causes of death were due to disease related to the circulatory system, and due to diseases of the arteries/arterioles/capillaries, ischaemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease/ stroke, respectively.

  4. Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being – food insecurity can increase the likelihood of depression and social isolation and is an independent risk factor for depression and suicidal symptoms in adolescents and early adulthood. Again, in Central Vancouver Island, mental health services use was well above average for BC.

  5. Health Care Costs – in addition to poorer health outcomes, recent research in Ontario shows increased health care costs associated with food insecurity. According to PROOF, after adjusting for education and income, total annual health care costs in Ontario were higher for adults living in food insecure households compared to those living in food secure household. Specifically, for marginally food insecure household, health care costs were up 23 percent, for moderately food insecure households, 49 percent and for those household who experienced severe food insecurity the cost of health care went up 121 percent. Food insecurity has also been show to increase the probability that adults will become high-cost health care users.

The report goes on to discuss the monthly cost of food for families of four. The numbers indicate that low-income families would have to spend two-thirds of their income to afford ‘nutritious’ food.


A Food Paradise Paradox

There is an interesting paradox on Vancouver Island. The island is filled with much beauty. Farmers grow wonderful biodynamic food, not all are organic certified because the hoop jumping and associated costs are too much. Farmers’ markets abound, some seasonal and some year round. Organic food can be delivered to the front door. Some wonderful food is grown year round in shipping containers.

Fresh vegetables, herbs, free range eggs and chickens, jams, berries, apples, plums, pears and honey, just to name a few foods, can be acquired at quaint farm stands at the end of long driveways.

Some chain grocery stores buy and sell locally grown food first and ‘Community Farm’ stores are gaining more traction.

Fifty years ago, 80 percent of the food grown on Vancouver Island was sold on Vancouver Island. Today, that number is estimated to lie between 5 to 10 percent. Local farmers who have been around for a while will tell you about this phenomenon. Perhaps things are coming full circle.

Interestingly, all this abundant food is largely inaccessible or not accessed by people living in food insecure households. Although food continues to be reasonably priced at local farm stands, the farm stands are less than accessible for families and individuals who face financial shortages, serious and chronic health conditions and struggle to put food on the table. They often cannot afford to own a vehicle or the insurance to go with it.

To make matters more confusing, places that claim to carry local food or source locally such as ‘community farm stores’ and farmers’ markets offer nutritious food but at such high prices (between one to two-thirds more than chain grocery stores) making fresh, local food virtually inaccessible even if households ‘budget’ or make a deliberate ‘choice’ to buy local food as much as possible.

People on Vancouver Island, at times, resort to social media to request food donations for their families due to financial shortages as well as on behalf of ailing spouses or family members who want to use real food to attempt to reverse or stabilize their chronic or terminal conditions but cannot afford to do so.

Community development, new policies and advocacy are needed to address both the economic and social conditions of food insecure households.  Since the food system affects us all in some way, we all need to be involved in finding lasting solutions to food insecurity. This is a given.

Needed Change

Access to good food for those who need it (such as those who are attempting to manage chronic conditions) is a complex issue and I certainly do not claim to have the solutions. But I believe that public awareness is a first step.

I wonder if the new way to feed people in our communities is to stop treating food as a commodity subject to market economics where a few big companies are winners and many individuals and communities are the losers. Food is a necessity, not a privilege.

For the People By the People

What if we grew food in the public realm where anyone could access it on a regular basis for free or minimal donation? Perhaps this doesn’t sound good for farmers; however, as the research shows, people living in food insecure households are not their target demographic anyway so my thoughts and ideas neither undermine their ventures nor take away their customers.

What if we made the conscious decision to grow food in the public realm in the form of community gardens or school gardens? Used islands and verges, gleaned food and were creative in how we got that food to the people who needed it most. If we live in extreme climates, we could grow food indoors (in malls, churches, community halls, seniors’ centers, recreation centers, resource centers, women’s shelters, windowsills) or in shipping containers.

The possibilities to provide nutritious food to those who need it are endless. It is a conscious choice that we must make as a society to feed everyone adequately.  Let’s make sustainable food systems and food security our priority issue.


Resources and Further Reading on Food Insecurity

  1. Priority health equity indicators for British Columbia: Household food insecurity indicator report (August 2016)
  2. PROOF – follow their research here
  3. Vancouver Island Health Authority: Local Health Area Profiles 
  4. Kalina, Laura (2002). Building Food Security in Canada: From Hunger to Sustainable Food Systems: A Community Guide 2nd edition.
  5. Building a Common Vision for Sustainable Agriculture – Food Security Summit Rome 2011


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Inspirational Tuesday ~ Talking on the Radio About My Experience with Food Insecurity


Listen to the show…click here

I am so grateful to Dr. Theresa Nicassio for having me back on her Radio Show to talk about a subject that I am so passionate about: Food Insecuritynot knowing where your next meal will come from due to financial constraint.

Last time I was on the show, I talked about the various Urban Garden projects happening around the world.  People are growing produce in the public realm as a way to tackle food insecurity in their neighborhoods and communities. These gardeners are engaged in grassroots work to compensate for the lack of direct social policies.

They are declaring their independence from the large-scale industrial agriculture system and the negative consequences of monoculture (single crop) farming on our health and the health of our environment through soil depletion, water pollution, generation of excess carbon in the atmosphere and the use of inorganic, synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

Poverty is not the same as Food Insecurity. Higher unemployment, lower household assets and certain demographics (being a minority, renting vs. owning a residence) are associated with decreased access to adequate, nutritious food.

According to a University of Toronto Multidisciplinary Research Team (PROOF) for Food Insecurity Policy Research, food insecurity can be marginal where people are running out of money for food before their next paycheck, moderate, where families are having trouble putting a balanced meal on the table, or reducing portions and/or foods they eat to make ends meet, or severe, where people go without food for days.

All of these states of household food insecurity have significant impact on physical, mental and social health because people may be prevented from eating enough of the right kinds of nutrients to support and maintain good health, according to the PROOF researchers.


This was the first time that I shared my personal experience of food insecurity with a wider audience. It was truly liberating to tell my story and give examples of how it played a role in my life. As I spoke with Theresa, I had a profound moment of realization, clarity and relief.

Being a psychologist, Theresa asked me how it made me feel to live in poverty as a new immigrant at nine years of age. The only emotion that surfaced was ‘shame’. Because I had never shared my story with anyone other than my husband, I never gave any thought to how I felt about it all and found it difficult to answer.

After reflecting on where the word ‘shame’ came from, I realized that early on, I drank the insidious cool-aid of Thomas Malthus and other such economic philosophers and social commentators whose theories continue to be debated and influential in modern society hundreds of years later despite their anachronous assumptions about human nature.

This excerpt from an article in Economist View, “Blaming the Poor for their Poverty” accurately sums up (without being reductionist) where my ‘shame’ about being economically poor came from:

“Ultimately, in Malthus’ view, the difference between the rich and the poor comes down to a difference in moral character. It is an attempt to convince us that poverty is inevitable, that it is the consequences of poor choices and the moral inferiority of the poor, and that there is little that can be done about it.

There is a long history of blaming the poor for being poor and downplaying other possible sources of inequality arising from differences in power, social position, institutional structure, and so on, followed by an argument that attempts to help the poor only serve to increase the incentive for immoral behavior.” Economist View 2006

People tried to convince me that poverty was inevitable (particularly as an immigrant) ever since my family and I came to Canada over 30 years ago. These were not malevolent strangers, these were people in my own extended family who themselves were immigrants. Interestingly, these relatives who had come to Canada with nothing managed to improve their financial circumstances through hard work but apparently did not hold the same hope for others or were perhaps using poor-shaming as a motivational technique. A very close version of Malthus’ theory became a part of my internal audio loop.

I felt there was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I was somehow morally inferior and our financial circumstances/low socioeconomic status, early on, were an outward manifestation, the ‘scarlet letter’, of moral baseness.

It has taken me 30 years to figure out why I felt less than and not ‘a part of’. After the radio show appearance, it dawned on me that I was playing this self-shaming loop in my head for all this time.

Why do I advocate and feel so passionate about alleviating food insecurity? Because upholding human rights and dignity of everyone on this planet through compassion, love, fairness, awareness and understanding is the only way forward.

Grow ~ Share ~ Thrive


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Inspirational Tuesday ~ The Very Invisible Food System

“As there is enough food in the world, hunger is a result of political decisions. Food insecurity results from ineffective policies (social, agricultural, economic and health) at local, national and global levels and from decisions which do not consider the elimination of poverty, hunger, and food insecurity , and the development of sustainable food systems to be priority issues.” ~Laura Kalina in Building Food Security in Canada: From Hunger to Sustainable Food Systems: A Community Guide 2nd edition.

Do we take food for granted?

Cheap food, cheap energy, cheap water. Where does it come from? Who grew it? How was it grown or raised? Who is eating it? Does it matter?

Food security refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it.

Food Security – it’s in Your Hands is a poignant documentary about the current food system and where to go from here. I encourage you to pick it up at the library on the way home.

There isn’t much public or community discussion about food security in North America. Simply searching ‘food security’ returns a results page filled with government statistics and definitions; however, there is no in-depth discussion or notable distress over the issue of equal access to a balanced diet. Whether we realize it or not, we are all a part of the food system. Information gives us the power to see the issues around us and to create needed change.

This documentary from 2012 is well worth watching and sharing with your friends, young people and children.

The history of food, food security, the rise of inorganic, synthesized fertilizer use and overuse are presented and discussed by farmers, soils scientists and newby farmers in a very engaging way.

The business and economic side of farming is also discussed. Currently, 4% of the Canadian population is engaged in producing our food. Can farming be a viable occupation for young people and families today?

This documentary was mostly filmed on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, just 15 minutes down the road from where we live.

~To Grow A Garden is to Believe in the Future~

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Creating The Future And Justice for All…


Rather than fighting the world we reject, let’s use our knowledge, skills, insights, principle and techniques to create the world we do want. ~Bill Mollison


Hello and Happy New Year to Everyone.

I want to start the New Year with gratitude. Last year was my first year blogging and I am very thankful to the 9K readers who visited my websites in 2016. Thank you to all those who posted comments, all of which have been wonderfully supportive and uplifting. Your kind words helped keep my focus and find my voice.


There are so many amazing people out there working to change the status quo of the food system – those who choose to eat a plant-based diet, ethically raised meat, grow their own, and those who see that food security and food safety are the truly pressing and relevant environmental and social justice issues of our time.

Fresh, nutritious foods should be available to everyone, not just those who can afford it. Growing food in the public realm is no longer a matter of choice, but necessity.

This year, my focus is on the environmental and social justice issues that exist around the ‘basics’ – food. I invite you to join me and others (whom I will be talking about and featuring throughout the year) on this journey. It is my true belief and intention that together we can make a significant, positive difference to the food system and thereby improve our health, our environment and our future one person at a time.

Not long ago I heard someone say “True revolution will happen on the plate“. Let’s make it happen together.


If you are looking for inspiration and further understanding of the current food system, watch “Fresh: New Thinking About What We’re Eating“. It is a docudrama by Sofia Joanes from 2009. This film is more relevant and pressing than ever before. It sheds light on the current food production systems and the alternatives from the point of view of farmers. It was the best 72 minutes of screen time I’ve spent in a long time. One farmer’s words resonated with me: “[We] fear one thing: inconvenience.”


I am excited to be in the process of planning and gathering supplies for our Urban Front Yard Farm Project. My goal is to grow enough food to feed our family of 5 and our neighbours for a 22 week growing season and beyond all on a 9 by 40 feet front yard space. I want to experiment with a few different media (haybales vs. organic soil/compost vs. hugelkultur). Read more about last year’s growing exploits here. As the quote at the very top states, rather than fighting against something, I want to create a world that I want – one that places the culture of health, community and a vibrant ecological system above anything else.


I spent some time creating a “vision board”for 2017. It is a compilation of things I wish to focus on this year. It is posted on my refrigerator as a reminder of what I wish to move toward.


January and February are getting to be busy. We’re going to the Gluten Free Expo in Vancouver Jan 14-15, 2017, meeting with Dr. Theresa Nicassio and checking out ZEND Conscious Lounge where 100 per cent of profits go to charity. I will also be doing some radio appearances on the Dr. Theresa Nicassio Radio Show on and hopefully doing another interview with Theresa. She has had a wonderfully busy year since we last spoke.



~Have a Beautiful Week~




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Be A Part of the ‘Re-Generation’ – Inspiring Examples of Urban Agriculture Today

Example isn’t another way to teach, it IS the way to teach.”

~Albert Einstein~

Urban agriculture, urban farming or urban gardening, according to Wikipedia, is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around a village, town, or city. Urban agriculture can also involve animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, urban beekeeping, and horticulture.


Urban agriculture, where food is produced and consumed locally, with minimal to no input (pesticides, herbicides) is the way of the future. Here’s why: food security, food safety as well as ecological and human health depend upon it.

True revolution – that is change in the current food system – will occur on the plate.


Each time we buy food, we vote. Voting is not just an every-4-years-phenomenon. It is a daily reality. We vote to either keep the current and unsustainable status quo or we vote for change in the food system by purchasing local or growing our own.


Here are some amazing examples of people banding together and voting (with money, attitude, and action) for change. What affects one, affects everyone.

Inspiration for the Gardener’s Soul

Use the Soil

There are many reasons to grow your own; climate change is one of those reasons. There are 880 gigatons of carbon floating in the atmosphere right now throwing the earth out of balance. One of the ways that we can bring this basic building block of life back into balance on our planet is to grow. Simply put, the plants we grow take carbon out of the atmosphere (using photosynthesis), turn it into sugars and starches and put it back into the soil.


December 5th was “World Soil Day“. Watch ‘The Soil Story’ below – take 4 minutes to watch, learn and share what you can personally do to be an active part of the climate change solution and a part of ‘regenerative agriculture’.

“On World Soil Day, I call for greater attention to the pressing issues affecting soils, including climate change, antimicrobial resistance, soil-borne diseases, contamination, nutrition and human health.” — UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon


Get Growing

It is exciting to read about the various community organized food growing projects and food growing initiatives that are happening around the world today. These are the people who are part of the climate change solution. They are paving the way for a vibrant ecological future now.


The purpose of these projects is to get fresh and organic produce to as many people as possible.

The amazing thing is that they center around and involve entire communities of people. Together they are setting the example: the positive actions of a few are benefiting larger communities and addressing significant needs.

Here are just a few examples of what collectively conscious communities can do:

1. Food Is Free Project

This project started with one front yard garden. Now, over 300 cities around the world have started a Food Is Free Movement.  The idea to grow gardens and community began to spread after three months and hasn’t stopped. Check out these Food Is Free Websites:

Start Your Own Food Is Free Project with this Guide.


2. The Female Farmer Project

Audra Mulkern is a cook, writer and photographer. She writes about and photographs “The Female Farmer Project”   – a chronicle of in-depth stories about the rise of women working in agriculture around the world.  Check out her “Visual Story Telling from the Farm” project. Inspiration abounds here.


3. Green Lawns to Urban Farms in Florida 

Chris Castro is the founder of Fleet Farming. He believes in growing food not lawns. Chris, along with a group of volunteers, are on a mission to turn Florida’s perfectly green laws into urban farms. Check out his amazing website and his visionary mission statement.


4. An Urban Food Street in Australia

What started out as planting and growing lime trees due to the high cost of limes in 2009, has now become an 11 street urban agriculture project. This ‘Urban Food Street‘ produced 900 kilograms of bananas and 300 cabbages in 2015. Although not everyone grows food on their lawns in this neighborhood, everyone contributes assets and/or skills for the greater good of the community.


5. ‘Agrihood’ in Detroit

If you need an alternative neighbourhood growth model, here is one for you. The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) has created a two-acre garden with trees and a ‘sensory garden’ for kids. MUFI, a non profit organization, hopes to tackle issues such as ‘nutritional illiteracy’ and ‘food insecurity’ in Detroit.


6. A Planned, EcoFriendly Neighborhood with integrated Agriculture

This Davis, California neighborhood is located close to downtown making walking and biking easy. It features solar powered homes equipped with led lighting, tankless water heaters and other energy saving features. It also has a 7.4 acre organic working farm that grows and sells organic food to its residents.


7. Re purposing with Real Impact

What can be done with abandoned schools or other such buildings? Caroline Hadilaksono designed an all-in-one urban food center. She dreamed up a space where the local community can come together to grow, harvest, prepare, sell and eat food, all in an abandoned school building. Her idea centers around the notion of community building and won the GOOD Competition which called for ideas on how to re purpose old, abandoned school buildings across the US. This is something all communities could get behind.


Call to Action

Dear Reader, write to me. Share your urban gardening stories and innovative food security solutions – I would love to compile and feature all such stories here with all credit given.


Featured photograph and vegetable harvest photograph by Jane Grueber

Other photographs courtesy of

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Better Yield Next Time? Start Planning a ‘Grow-Your-Own Food’ Project Now

Happy December Everyone!

With the New Year just around the bend and a new growing season to plan, I am so excited to flip through some beautiful seed catalogs I recently received in the mail (online and paper). Inspiration abounds in the beautifully photographed pages. It summons the taste and smell of homegrown food that is still warm from the hot summer sun. If it isn’t already apparent, I am looking forward to another growing season and the hot summer sun.

Invest in Living a Life Well Nourished

To take my already overflowing garden dreams to the next level, I invested in a lovely new cookbook: Life in Balance: A Fresher Approach to Eating by Donna Hay.  My preference is to invest in cookbooks and garden seeds over gym memberships. Cookbooks and garden seeds nourish, revitalize and teach; my gym memberships just collect dust after a about a month. Donna’s cookbook contains wonderful plant-based recipes (it contains meat-based recipes too and it’s what I would consider a ‘Paleo’ cookbook) but the thing is, vegetables aren’t just side dishes here, they are front and center in simple, creative and delicious ways. I am heartened to see more and more plant-based cookbooks hitting the market. See Cookbooks for a Plant-Based Diet for a list of my favorite plant-based cookbooks.

Life in Balance

As I sit here dressed in a warm sweater sipping a hot morning coffee, my mind wanders to the warmest days of summer when we can use the harvest from our garden to host al fresco feasts for our neighbors and friends.  It’s never early to start planning feast menus, is it?


However, long before we can enjoy our harvest, there’s got to be some serious planning. I have several goals to achieve in the garden this year:

  1. expand the garden and increase crop yield
  2. try different growing media (organic dirt vs. hay)
  3. set up an ecosystem that supports native and honey bees as well as other beneficial bugs
  4. use companion plants to naturally ward of pests
  5. grow juicy, plump tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers (see resources at the end of this post)

Inspiration from the Homesteading Summit

A few weekends ago, I watched some of the presentations from the  Online Homesteading Summit. Topics centered around permaculture and included an introduction to permaculture principles, water conservation, bee keeping, and home gardening among others.



I don’t come from an agricultural background by any stretch of the imagination. But one key piece of information that permeated all the presentations was that one does not need to be a biologist or geological expert. In fact, if one is a keen observer of nature and comes to understand its patterns and cycles, achieving nutritional and ecological sustainability by growing your own (with minimal effort) is an attainable-not lofty-goal.

Feeling inspired to grow more of our own food next year, I ran outside to put stakes in our front yard. These stakes are the beginning of an expanded home garden and a new project. I love projects!


Lessons from Last Year’s Growing Season

Last year was our first year of growing food in British Columbia. We grew our own vegetables and herbs on 80 square feet. This gave us enough fresh produce for 22 weeks in a row but the process was much like walking through a corn field in the dark – unpredictable. We never knew what was coming next and it was either feast or famine – a crop came all at once, inundating us for a week or not coming at all.

I planted trees and berries bushes without knowing how much spacing they required or that we already had a fig tree in the backyard and didn’t really need to buy another one. I learned that mint takes over the garden. In summary, I learned a lot about timing, spacing, and using the microclimates around our house to plant accordingly.  Chalk this up to necessary experience for a perennial city dweller.


Growing Your Own is on the Rise

Growing food in the yard is not new but the way it is being done now is a bit revolutionary. It’s the re-ruralization of the urban and suburban centers.  48 million households in the US and 43 million in Australia are attempting to grow their own produce in whatever space they have.  It seems like many of us are on the same journey so let’s support each other.

Geeking Out on Garden Planning

I was particularly inspired and moved to action by Stacey Murphy, backyard gardener, backyard geek, author of children’s books and recovering engineer. It was her simple and systematic approach to home gardening that really revved up my desire to replicate and extrapolate. Because the circumstances – climate, soil conditions, amount of space – are as unique as the people who choose to grow their own, this variability opens the door for guesswork but also a lot of creativity.

In summary, Stacey addressed 4 key ideas to take the guesswork out of backyard gardening:

  1. recognize patterns
  2. improve yield
  3. adapt/optimize patterns
  4. streamline effort

When Stacey began her backyard gardening project, she had a decent vegetable harvest but noticed that her garden could have produced better with better space utilization and a little planning ahead. This sounded a lot like us. The following year she got busy planning and put together her own road map for greater yield as well as to save energy, time and resources. All this by analyzing trends, patterns, and crunching some numbers.

Here are some wonderful resources from Tracy that anyone can use to increase their crop yield and to make their home garden a much more efficient and streamlined endeavor.

  1. Garden Geek Garden Template
  2. Your Guide to Understanding Growing Zones (sign up on Stacey’s Facebook Page and get this guide)


Other Resources to help you create a vibrant ecosystem in your yard with minimal effort:

  1. Permaculture Principles
  2. Creating a Bee Friendly ecosystem in your backyard
  3. Secrets to Growing Plump Tomatoes
  4. Companion Plants that Ward Off Unwanted Pests (including mosquitoes)
  5. City of Vancouver Urban Garden Agriculture Guidelines



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Feeding the Local Community: Guest Blog by Archie McNab, Farmer & Entrepreneur

It is an honour to have Archie McNab write a guest blog post for Recipes of My Home. One of the reasons we moved to Vancouver Island was to have access to fresh produce and farm stands. I have been buying food from his Farm Stand in Yellow Point on Vancouver Island since we first moved here almost 2 years ago. I was ecstatic that fresh produce was only 5 minutes away from where we live. In the summer, I make a weekly pilgrimage to buy carrots, cucumbers, beets, squash, beans, peas and patty pans.


I had the pleasure of formally meeting Archie this fall. Archie, along with five brothers and sisters, operate a small scale farm in Yellow Point. The farm was purchased by their parents in 1960 and has been in a constant state of evolution and change ever since as they move towards a much more inclusive version of farming. Read more about the evolution of the McNab Corn Maze & Produce Farm here.


To make a long story short, I took Archie up on his offer to write a guest post for Recipes of My Home. My hope is that he will continue to share his experience, wisdom and point of view as a local, small scale producer. His first post gives an insight into the changes small scale farming has undergone over the last several decades and how those changes impact farming families.

With demand for local and sustainable produce growing exponentially, there is no time like the present to bring awareness to and discuss the challenges as well as opportunities that come with such a venture.


Feeding the Local Community‘ by Archie McNab:

I have watched with a mixture of bemusement and admiration as society makes a massive sea change in how they view food. It isn’t just in the growing of it, there’s more to it than that. It’s in how it is viewed, presented, obtained, cooked (or not), eaten and even being used as a status symbol. And finally, in how we treat the discarded or unused food.

When I grew up with my five siblings pretty much everything we grew, we ate. And if we shot it, we ate that too. All leftovers either went to the dogs (who also served as guard dogs for the animals) or to the chickens. Waste was minimal and if there was any at all, it went out into the pea patch along with the wood stove ashes.

Trees were selectively harvested. We only cut what was marketable or what was dead and would make good firewood for that winter. Old machinery was patched up, wired together and repurposed. Oil was used over and over until there was only sludge left and then it was used as chain oil in the power saws or as lubricant for shafts and couplings. Lumber was used and reused and used again. Used nails and spikes were straightened for another go round. Old hot water tanks became culverts.

However, as one brother points out, we weren’t green to be fashionable or to score brownie points or even because it was the right thing to do. We were green because we were poor. And we weren’t alone. Every other farmer that we knew was poor too. Of course, growing up inside this culture, we kids had no idea we were poor. We had clothes (often hand me downs) and always had lots to eat. In fact, I would say it’s safe to say we ate more pheasant and venison that most of the royalty in Europe did back in the day.

But my point is this. If you want local food, and I am very sure that we do, support your local producer. Whether it’s the wine or beer you drink, the honey you put on your food or the greens that you fill your bowl with, do your very best to make sure it’s local.

As a farmer, I promise you this. If you show us that you are willing to spend your dollars for our food, we will bend over backwards to keep producing more and to encourage others to do the same. If farming is a viable way of making a living don’t you think more people would be inclined to take it up as an occupation?

There are benefits in being a farmer, you are your own boss (when the spouse isn’t around), you eat well and most of all you have the satisfaction of knowing you are producing good food for people to eat. It is also very humbling to receive all the thanks that we are given for doing what we do.

I encourage everyone to take the time to grow some of your own food, to appreciate the effort that goes into it and the satisfaction when you harvest it. Look up your local producers of food and get to know them. They in turn will gladly tell you of other local producers and before you know it we will have a vibrant, local food economy.

Our island once produced over half of the food that was consumed here, now it’s down to less than 10 percent. That is something we can change, if we choose to.

Thanks for listening.


Further Reading

  1. Small Farm Canada is a national magazine that  promotes small-scale farming as a legitimate and viable endeavour. The magazine’s editorial position is that the lives of small-scale farmers and their families are worthy, complex and rich in possibility, and that the communities serving small-scale farmers are unique and dynamic. Through attractive, well-written, independent-minded articles (free of orthodoxies) the magazine entertains, informs, inspires and challenges readers across Canada.
  2. The Canadian Organic Grower Magazine is for those who are interested in growing or consuming organic and sustainably produced food, then you’ll enjoy this magazine!  Our aim is to provide practical and timely information useful to growers and eaters across Canada.  We also cover important developments on social, economic and regulatory issues relevant to organic production in Canada.


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Agricultural Revolution in a Shipping Container – High Tech Turn Key Solution for Food Insecurity and Safety

The most difficult challenge facing humanity is not devising solutions to the energy crisis or climate crisis or population crisis; rather, it is bringing stories or narratives of the human journey into our collective awareness that empower us to look beyond a future of great adversity and to see a future of great opportunity. What visions of humanity’s journey are sufficiently compelling to transcend age-old differences and bring us together in a common venture of inhabiting the Earth in ways that are sustainable?  ~ Duane Elgin, NewStories, Great Transition Stories

The future demands that what we understand and accept as our main means of growing/raising (large scale agriculture) and processing food must evolve and change. Conventional food production is unsustainable as it takes its toll on finite resources. Innovation and technology are the way of the future and Bright Greens Canada is a glimpse into that future.

Tamara Knott, project manager turned high tech farmer, jumped down a new rabbit hole a few months ago when she opened her doors to the public as Bright Greens Canada. She was the first to do so in British Columbia and her farm is one of six such operations in Canada – one in Alberta, one in Saskatchewan and three in Ontario. Her mission: to supply organic, fresh, local greens 365 days of the year.

I had the pleasure of meeting Tamara on her family farm in North Saanich near Victoria on Vancouver Island. She humbly described herself as a newbie farmer. However, it was apparent early on in our meeting that she was nimbly and expertly piloting the cutting edge technology in the form of a 40 foot shipping container retrofitted with specialized lighting and a closed loop watering/plant feeding system designed to grow nutrient dense food vertically.


A Revolutionary Idea

Millions of people in North America are clamoring against genetically modified foods, the use of off farm inputs such as glyphosate and taking on a well entrenched agricultural system.

Does a farm housed inside a shipping container provide a more ethical, ecologically responsible, logistically and economically viable option for food production? Tamara is currently growing 7 different types of lettuce, kale and herbs and produces up to 45 kg of fresh produce per week. These greens grow vertically in a carefully controlled environment without chemicals or off-farm inputs and with minimal water and electricity use.

Growing food in a shipping container is the brain child of the Boston-based company Freight Farms. Their mission is to allow farmers to grow organic, nutrient dense food anywhere (with a simple water and electricity hookup) and with virtually no negative impact to the planet – to bring agriculture to to the urban landscape, the desert, the moon and Mars.

Their 40 foot hydroponic operation is remotely controlled with their intelligent operation app. A farmer with the app remotely monitors and controls the amount of water, light and nutrients plants receive. Since land, soil and solar conditions and water are key to successful farming, Freight Farms takes care of all of these challenges of conventional agriculture.

They are out to change perceptions about farming. Freight farms are single handedly making agriculture easy, simple, accessible and doable by anyone, anytime and anywhere without the need for or use of chemicals or pesticides. A freight farmer can grow a commercial scale amount of food in a small shipping container close to the place where it will be consumed with a minimal carbon footprint or damage to the natural environment.

It was amazing to see Tamara’s intelligent operation in action and how the smallest details were thought through – even the moisture in the shipping container was captured via dehumidifier, purified with reverse osmosis and reused to water the crops.

The shipping containers are modular, scale-able and stack-able. This innovation opens the door to a whole new future of food security – potentially giving more people access to nutrient dense and safe foods on a predictable and consistent basis.

How It Works

  • The farm operation is built entirely inside a 40’ x 8’ x 9.5’ shipping container and is outfitted with all the tools needed for high-volume, consistent harvests.
  • Innovative climate technology and growing equipment allows for a consistent environment 365 days a year, regardless of geographic location.
  • High efficiency LED light strips provide crops with red and blue light – the light spectrums required for photosynthesis.

  • A closed loop hydroponic system delivers a nutrient rich water solution directly to roots, using only 10 gallons of water a day.

  •  The multi-planed airflow and intercrop aeration system automatically regulates temperature and humidity through a series of sensors and controls.

How Does the Food Taste?

The question I got asked the most after meeting with Tamara was, “How does the food taste?” Tamara kindly gave us two full bags of her greens to take home, stating “the proof is in the lettuce”. Indeed. The mix of greens was so fragrant and flavourful that we couldn’t stop smelling it, eating it or talking about it around our table. My husband (who is a fervent meat eater) remarked that he couldn’t remember the last time he smelled or tasted lettuce that was so fragrant or flavourful. The greens, picked just before we arrived for a tour of Bright Greens Canada, stayed fresh and crisp for a good two weeks (sealed in a plastic bag and refrigerated) as we devoured them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


It is no wonder that chefs in Victoria are featuring Tamara’s 7 different types of lettuce, kale and herbs on their menus as the demand for local, organic, sustainable and responsible food production continues to grow (some would say that it is returning) on the Island.

The average age of farmers in Canada is 55 on the east and west coasts of Canada. This new turn-key, high tech way of farming may pack a whole lot of appeal to both younger and older generations alike. Food security, safety, sustainability are everyone’s business. We can no longer sit by passively and put where our food comes from conveniently an arm’s length away. Bright Greens Canada and Freight Farms are paving a new path on the agricultural scene.

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Fastest, Freshest Salsa Recipe – Guest Blog by Carolyn Herriot

Maybe you have a favourite salsa recipe but have you tried making salsa with a food processor? It’s so fast and easy and the resulting sauce will keep well for a week in the refrigerator.

Simply throw two peeled cloves of garlic and a medium onion into the food processor and pulse to chop; throw in six (skinned and cored) salad tomatoes, two jalapeno peppers (with seeds if you like it hot and maybe roasted for extra flavour), and a bunch of stemmed cilantro. Pulse a few times to a coarse texture of your liking, but do not over process to mush. Strain the salsa through a sieve to remove excess juice, then add the juice of one lime and salt to taste. Leave in the refrigerator for flavours to meld – so refreshing!

Our field grown heritage tomatoes are so abundant and flavourful that I make lots of salsa throughout the summer. I use it as a dip for tortilla chips and often as a sauce for pasta or rice dishes. It tastes wonderful with free range eggs as this zingy salsa livens up any dish.

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Last summer, after discovering this quick and easy way to make salsa, I introduced a ‘salsa kit’ at my farmers’ market booth. The $5 kit consisted of a bag with all the necessary ingredients for the customers to go home and make their own salsa. Not surprisingly, this idea took off really fast and soon I had customers returning weekly for more salsa kits. ‘Best we’ve ever tasted’! And so it should be.

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Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero-Mile Diet and The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook. Available at your local bookstore. She grows IncrEdibles! in Yellow Point on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.