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Inspirational Monday ~ Mini-Farm Your Front Lawn

I woke up this morning to a great post written and illustrated by two women, Jennifer Luxton and Erin Sagen, titled Comic: Why You Should Turn Your Yard Into a Mini-Farm. Take the time to read it and get inspired to do things differently.

They wrote this article for YES! Magazine to incite people to ditch the 40.3 million acres of front lawns in the Continental US and to grow food, herbs and ‘weeds’ that are beneficial for humans, animals and the planet. I couldn’t agree more. Re-creating the vast suburban luscious greens lawns into mini-farms is the future of locally sourced, nutrient dense food as well as a way to create food security.

To get you started, here are some ideas for growing delicious edibles that are also wonderful for honeybees, bumblebees and other beneficial insects.

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Herbs and Edible Flowers to Grow from YOUGROWGIRL!

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~Grow~Share~Thrive~

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Growing Urban ~ Early July

The summer and the entire growing season is going by so quickly. The garden changes almost daily and we are fully enjoying our harvest. Lettuces and spinach make for simple, flavor-filled salads. We shuck peas for breakfast, snack on strawberries, radishes and broccoli. We infuse our drinks with fragrant herbs and patiently await the arrival of our tomatoes and cucumbers. There’s nothing like a fresh salsa or bruschetta on a hot summer day.

Here are some photographs from our garden and its progress. I am really loving the companion plants we put in this year. Not only are they distracting pests of all sorts from the crops, they are a joy to look at.

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It looks like a busy place but among all those companion plants, there are fruits and vegetables.

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Giant dill that is now taller than our scarecrow.

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Runaway cauliflower. If not harvested at the right time, it goes on to create little florets that are not very tasty.

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As someone who loves cakes, I have been thoroughly enjoying the edible flowers in the garden as well. Flowers add such a lovely touch to the top of any cake without the need to go heavy on the icing.

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These cake topping beauties attract bees. Borage flowers, the dashing blue stars, refill with nectar every two minutes and have a way of keeping the bees’ attention. I have been on a mission to capture a bee in action for some time. They flutter from flower to flower and are surprisingly difficult to capture.

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I am in the process of starting up a larger Urban Garden Farm. I want to focus on growing specific greens and herbs that are known to be especially powerful for healing, or helping to ameliorate symptoms of, chronic conditions.

So now I am on a mission to find a polytunnel that will be a good fit for our back yard and for growing food free of chemicals or any off-farm inputs.

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~Grow~Share~Thrive~

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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~Grow~Share~Thrive~

 

All photographs are original by Jane Grueber.

 

 

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Front-Yard Urban Garden ~ May Update

Now that May is half over and all our garden beds have been filled with vegetables, fruit and herbs, it is time to pause and take stock of what is actually growing and to reflect on why we are growing our own and sharing it with others.

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Why a Front Yard Garden?

This is our front yard. We decided to trade our weed-filled front lawn for six 4′ by 8′ raised garden beds filled with organic soil and home-made compost.

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This is our experiment. We want to know how much food we can grow and whether this set up can provide enough for our family of five for a 22 week growing period and beyond.

My hope is that we grow enough produce for our family AND to share with our neighbours as well as those who face household food insecurity in our community.

Read more about our front yard urban garden project here.

What is Household Food Insecurity? 

Not enough nutritious food on the table even though paychecks are coming in? Yes, this does exist in Canada. It is worse in some parts, such as the Northern Territories where two-thirds of children have very limited access to nutritious foods.

On Vancouver Island, where we live, research shows that 25 per cent of families experience some form of household food insecurity and have difficulty putting nutritious meals on the table as their money runs out long before their next paycheck.

Malnutrition in children and adults leads to poor health and mental health outcomes. Developmental difficulties as well as chronic conditions are directly linked to household food insecurity and increased health care costs.

Read more about Household Food Insecurity here.

Nutritious foods sold in ‘Farm Stores’ and Farmers’ Markets are expensive and out of reach for many working families and individuals attempting to manage chronic conditions through better nutrition.

Read more about Household Food Insecurity here.

These challenges are real. They are also opportunities. Growing our own as a way to gain independence and create greater food security in our community is indeed a revolutionary act.  Thankfully, there are many people around the world engaged in such subversive grassroots action. Our family is on a mission to Grow, Share and Thrive.

This is our first year. Our total investment in this front yard urban garden was $1600 CND. This is two months worth of groceries for us.  I know that this seems like a large sum (we saved and used many creative shortcuts). But this is a one time investment. Next year, our own compost and saved seeds will decrease the cost significantly. I see this as an investment that will pay off in the long run and benefit many.

My hope is to help others set up similar operations in their front yards; to provide them with free seeds, free seedlings, free compost (or help them create their own compost), to help them put together garden beds the most cost-effective way possible as well as an easy drip watering system that saves time and money.

I am heartened that people are interested in what we are doing. This year, we were able to give our neighbours tomato and strawberry seedlings as well as unused seeds to help them start their own urban gardens. Naturally, the biggest barrier to growing one’s own is time.

We specifically set up our urban operation to be non-time consuming. Once seeds and plants are in place, it’s water tap on, water tap off. Done.

Want to start your own urban garden? Read more about how to get started here.

Get even more inspiration for growing your own here.

What’s Growing in the Garden?

Cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, radishes, peas, beans, spinach, lettuce, cucumber, squashes of all sorts, watermelon, strawberries, sorrel, garlic, cabbage as well as 32 different herbs and perennials.

Here are some pepper blossoms. They are so delicate. We started the seeds for these from an organic green pepper we purchased at a local store (one way to get seeds). We started the seeds in used organic coffee grounds on our kitchen counter.

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They start out so little.

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Here is some dwarf kale.

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Cauliflower which loved the cooler, damp weather that we had until yesterday when the sun found us.

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This is a Gala Apple Tree. We got the seed from an store bought apple and started it in used organic coffee grounds on our counter. It’s two feet tall now. We have three of these started and have high hopes for adding to our fruit forest in our backyard.

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These wonderful Cherry Belle Radishes are almost ready to be harvested.

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Our first strawberry. Small but sweet and juicy.

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My favorite flowers of all time with the fuzziest leaves ever are back. Borage has reseeded itself and is now growing wildly in all garden beds. The start-shaped flowers are wonderful for bees as they refill with nectar every 2 minutes. Another great nectar producer is Comfrey which refills every 45 minutes.

The fuzzy leaves of this plant are very edible and when I’m out of spinach, I substitute borage leaves when making palak paneer.

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~Grow~Share~Thrive~

 

All photography by Jane Grueber

 

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Want to Start your own Urban Garden? Get Inspired with These Essential Reads

When it comes to urban gardening and urban farming, it is clear that there is a lot going on.

“For the reasons of personal health, personal empowerment and the simple joy of growing, every person in every city needs the opportunity to grow at least some of their own food.” ~ Paul Peacock, author of The Urban Farmer’s Handbook

For those who are thinking about starting your own urban garden or even farm, here are a few books that are essential reads. They are filled with much inspiration and down right practical advice on how to get started and what to do with all those crops. I love these books. Our local library carries them and now they are a permanent part of my growing urban garden library.

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Our urban garden

In addition, community and non-profit groups are also essential for pushing change and working toward a more sustainable future.  Want to get involved or start your own? Here are some excellent examples of the food revolution:

  1. Food Secure Canada (foodsecurecanada.org)
  2.  Urban Farms/Non-Profit Organizations across Canada:
  3. Global Food Security (foodsecurity.ac.uk)
  4. Slow Food (slowfood.com)
  5. Global Eco-Village Network (gen.ecovillage.org)
  6. Transition Towns (transitiontowns.org)

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Essential Reads for the Urban Garden Revolutionary

Urban Farm Projects: Making the Most of Your Money, Space and Stuff

Urban Farm Projects: Making the Most of Your Money, Space and Stuff

“More of us are rethinking how and where food can be grown, leading to a surge in innovation and ingenuity. It;s a movement toward simplification and getting back to the land while incorporating modern technology to facilitate the process. The challenge is how to optimize this on a functional, daily basis. Modern life is too full-full of possessions, activities, news, and information. We have electronic screens in our homes, our offices, our cars, and even our pockets. Everywhere we turn, advertisements tout products that we ‘need’ to make us happy and fulfilled…More and more, people are seeking less and less-fewer objects, fewer activities, less (or at least better) news, more concise information.” ~ Kelly Wood, author of Urban Farm Projects: Making the Most of your Money, Space, and Stuff

 

The Urban Farmer's Handbook

The Urban Farmer’s Handbook

“Food should be free. If I do my part I should hope that this planet of ours will sustain me. Indeed, experience says that it does, particularly in a climate that is neither too hot nor too cold, and has plenty of water. But I can hardly take advantaged of it because I am poor, although in the west I am comparatively well off.” ~ Paul Peacock, author of The Urban Farmer’s Handbook

 

The Essential Urban Farmer

The Essential Urban Farmer

“Urban farming is a way for people of all income levels to eat fresh, local, organic food.  I knew that I didn’t have enough money to buy organic produce or meat, and so I decided to raise it myself…Due to low incomes and lack of access to grocery stores, urban people fail to get the healthy nutrition they need.  A few packets of seeds costing less than twenty dollars can produce enough vegetables for a years worth of eating.” ~ Novella Carpenter, co-author of The Essential Urban Farmer

 

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities

‘Government has its role, but all deep change starts with changing our own thoughts and actions. We each make daily choices about what we eat, and we each have the power to change those choices. Governments, corporations, farmers, grocery stores, school cafeterias and restaurants all respond to the aggregated demand of individual people. When we change, they will too.” ~ Peter Lander, author of The Urban Food Revolution

The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities

The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities

The Food Activist Handbook: Big & Small Things You Can Do to Help Provide Fresh, Healthy Food for Your Community

The Food Activist Handbook: Big & Small Things You Can Do to Help Provide Fresh, Healthy Food for Your Community

Urban Agriculture: Ideas and Designs for the New Food Revolution

Urban Agriculture: Ideas and Designs for the New Food Revolution

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~Grow~Share~Thrive~

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Growing Urban ~ Raised Garden Beds are Ready

Where we live, a shovel going into the soil does not make it far. The clang of rocks and a sudden stop don’t make the ground a hospitable place for growing food without much augmentation and work to get the soil conditions right. I am not the patient type.

RELATED: Read more about our Urban Garden Project here.

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Our front yard last fall

My wonderful husband was charged with creating raised garden beds for our front lawn so that we could start our urban garden all on a Colt 45 budget. He went to the local saw mill and purchased 36 – 1 by 6 inch rough-sawn red cedar boards and five 4 by 4 inch posts (dimensional posts). In a couple of days, he built six 4 by 8 foot garden beds at a cost of $42 dollars each. The average retail price is over $200 dollars each.

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Our front yard Spring 2017

Although I filled the first garden bed with our own compost as well as purchased organic compost, it took a lot of dirt to fill one garden bed. To fill the other five, we will order some organic manure and soil from a local supplier.

Starting a garden this size is certainly an investment in the future. We have done it with budget at the front-of-mind. Sourcing wood directly from a local saw mill (there are plenty here on Vancouver Island), purchasing half-dead annuals and perennials at hugely discounted prices and using saved seeds from last year’s gardening exploits.

Herbs for the Garden

I have to admit I invested in some amazing medicinal herbs/vegetables from a local farm – Hazelwood Herb Farm. They are mostly perennials:

  1. American Arnica
  2. Betony
  3. Bistort (Shakeroot)
  4. Burdock
  5. German Chamomile
  6. Hedge Hyssop
  7. Horehound
  8. Lovage
  9. Lemon Balm
  10. White Yarrow
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Herbs purchased from Hazelwood Herb Farm

Upon the suggestion of Hazelwood Herb Farm, I ordered a copy of Jekka’s Complete Herb Book and await its arrival so that I can learn more about the world of medicinal herbs. If I’m going to grow all this stuff, it behooves me to know what it’s for, right?

Jekka’s Complete Herb Book

 

All that money and effort will hopefully pay off over the next 5 to 10 years as the perennials become established and annuals reseed themselves. I am motivated by the hope and promise of fresh, organically grown produce, including culinary and medicinal herbs. My sense of joy and inspiration are renewed with all the possibilities growing (or about to grow) in our urban garden.

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First Raised Bed is ready to Grow

Sowing Seeds

Our first raised garden bed now contains the following seeds and plants started on April 5, 2017:

  1. Hedge Hyssop (plant)
  2. German Chamomile (plant)
  3. White Yarrow (plant)
  4. Gaillardia (seeds)
  5. Sunflowers (seeds)
  6. Radishes (heritage seeds)
  7. Carrots (heritage seeds)
  8. Kale (heritage seeds)
  9. Cauliflower (heritage seeds)
  10. Cabbage (heritage seeds)
  11. Spinach (heritage seeds)
  12. Lettuce (heritage seeds)
  13. Peas/Beans (heritage seeds)
  14. Cucumbers (soon to be transplanted)
  15. Various Squashes (soon to be transplanted)

I ordered heritage seeds from West Coast Seeds and Heritage Harvest Seeds.

~Grow~Share~Thrive~ 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

~Grow~Share~Thrive~