Currently, our front lawn is blanketed in freshly fallen snow, but beneath that lies a rather large, freshly dug garden bed waiting for the spring thaw.
That’s right – we made the unusual decision to tear up the grass in our front lawn to make room for a large vegetable garden.
Repurposing the front lawn as a garden isn’t customary practice in the neighbourhood in which we live, but we couldn’t resist going against the norm this fall. We’ve dug up our green grass, fertilized, and tilled the soil in anticipation of the spring planting season. How do you come to boldly dig up soil to sit like an opened wound in the majority of your front lawn? The decision to do so grew in us over time.
The seed of our decision
On hot, monotonous summer days, I’d pass the morning by strolling through the neighbourhood with Finn. Podcasts, like this one, would fill the air and occupy my mind while we took in the sights and sounds of neighbours going about their lives. Here, as I passed lawn after lawn, I came to notice the effects of the long drought on some properties, while others enjoyed the benefits of frequent watering. Our front lawn was long left to burn, and I found myself growing increasingly indignant with each passing of those luscious green lawns. What a waste of water, I thought to myself. Most of those neighbours didn’t even use their lawn, it seemed, but the care-taking was done, seemingly, for the benefit of curb appeal.
Don’t get me wrong – we certainly ran sprinkler systems some evenings on the sod in our backyard, a space we used and enjoyed during the summer months, and worked to keep that space green. But where do we, as a society and as individuals, draw the line on how we use our water and what we cultivate in the limited green space we allow ourselves at our homes? When did we come to prioritize a perfectly manicured lawn over the ecosystems that sustain us? Wouldn’t that water be better spent growing food or some other productive use than mere aesthetics, I complained to myself?
All the while, Joel tended dutifully to our small backyard raised garden bed, learning all that he could about fertilizing by hand the zucchini plants by watching for the male and female parts, tending to and harvesting tomatoes, heirloom carrots, spinach, and a fruitful basil plant given to us by a friend. While I was considering the problem of wasted water, Joel was working on his green thumb.
Here, the seeds of our garden were sewn.
Why bother growing your own?
We do so for two reasons. First, our motivation lies in taking care in the food we eat and feed our children. Second, in response to how in our modern society we have lost touch with our connection to food.
Let’s first acknowledge how little of the food we consume comes to us through the labour of our own hands, regardless of whether or not you too garden.
By and large, the vast majority of those I know do not personally cultivate the majority of the food they consume – us included. In this model, we acquire our food from a variety of sources, yes, but in all of those scenarios we’re placing trust in those makers, growers, transporters, storers, legislators and regulators of our food and food stuffs. We are placing our trust in those in offices in far away places that the food we eat and give to our children is not only healthy, but safe to consume. We are trusting that those in the business of industrial agriculture care more for our health than their bottom line.
What an uncomfortable reality we’re left to sit with.
For these reasons, we feel compelled to grow our own.
How to avoid feeling overwhelmed with it all
Without getting into the details of it all, it’s safe to say that modern industrial agriculture is having a dramatic impact on the soil, water, ecosystems and biodiversity necessary to our survival. I’ve read about this here, here, and here, and if you’re interested, you can too.
At a time when our concerns over our health and that of the environment seem to loom so large as to overwhelm, it’s important to take small measures to regain some control over these issues.
Here are some things that we try to do
Buy organic. Buying organic ensures that harmful pesticides are kept off of your food and out of your body. You can read more about the organic label on foods here. Remember the DDT revelations of our parents’ generation? Just because a chemical is at one time thought to be safe for use, doesn’t mean it is always proven to be so. I try to operate under the “if you know better then do better” model. Where possible, I choose non-GMO foods, too, as I become aware of how genetically modified crops can affect biodiversity.
Think about sustainability. Recently, I’ve also been thinking about avoiding products or companies known to devastate ecosystems. For example, the unsustainable production of palm oil has devastated ecosystems in Indonesia and Malaysia and palm oil is found on the ingredient list of many food, household and personal goods. You can read about the production of palm oil here.
Drink tap water rather than bottled – this includes any bottled beverage. Canadians in the Guelph area and those in B.C. are currently protesting against Nestle’s unbridled access to groundwater for disproportionate compensation. One of my favourite David Suzuki quotes reads: “Water is a precious resource that belongs to all of us. Let’s not take it for granted. And let’s not put it in plastic.”
Buy local. Buy from the markets, and talk to those who work the land and handle the produce. Speak with the beekeepers. Pick your own at the farms. Reconnect with the land and the ways in which we grow our food. What patterns do you or the farmers notice in the growing, the weather, the pests. Know where your food comes from. I have friends who have set up chicken coups in their backyards or tended bee colonies, and I admire them in taking their food into their own hands.
Preserve or Ferment. I’ve watched in awe at my sister as she set up a science experiment of various jars as she taught herself to ferment and make kefir milk and water. I’ve exchanged jars of preserves with many women in my life and I’ve watched family members battle it out at Christmas gift exchanges for that basket of canned goods. We rightly treasure these canned fruits of the harvest, but too few of us preserve summer’s bounty for the long winter. Why would we when we can acquire any variety of produce during all seasons from our local grocer. Gone is the seasonal cycle that guides our habits, traditions and associations with food in a world where we can buy most anything anytime.
Make homemade. In our disposable world, we seem to have lost touch with these homemade skills of generations past, and I for one welcome a return of the homemade in our kitchens and in our homes. When too many ingredients on my household and personal products can’t even be pronounced, I take comfort in knowing the few ingredients that comprise the things I use. Incorporating essential oils into my day to day has reduced my toxic load tremendously. You can read about that here and here.
Of concern as I comprise this list is how making healthier choices is done at the exclusion of those who can’t afford the higher cost of organic and natural products. My husband and I are fortunate enough financially, and even we have cause to pause at the cost sometimes. I often think that if it’s not always possible for us to make these healthier choices, how do those with less afford to do so? Simply, they can’t. Safe, chemical-free food should be the norm, not exclusive for those who can afford to pay.
There is much work to do in ensuring the safety of our children and the food we feed them, and protecting the environment we rely on in order to grow what we eat. Consumers and eaters have enormous power to nurture our environment and protect it.
To be honest, I often feel overwhelmed with it all, and I’m sure you sometimes do too. If we can do this one small thing to reconnect with our food and show Finn where his food comes from, I’m satisfied. My hope is that our garden leads to chicken coops and bee colonies and community food sharing on a model similar to our Little Free Library. One day I’d like to have solar panels on our roof and electric cars. But first, we need to take one step in that direction, and with this garden I hope to plant a lifetime of practicing all of the overwhelming concerns that we preach.
So, I’ll now be fielding any and all tips for garden growing success! Leave all the tips in the comments, because these thumbs are pretty underdeveloped as it stands.