Our market garden is planted beside the Trans Canada Highway next to a bustling intersection. As we go about our work transplanting cabbages, harvesting carrots and hilling potatoes we’re surrounded by the constant drone of cars, the honking of horns and the roar of trucks.
Yet, amongst the rows of waving sweet corn or alongside the heavenly blue borage abuzz with bumblebees we find an inexpressible serenity. Here where soil meets asphalt, on land untouched by development, we sow seeds and harvest food for the locals who desire to make meaningful connections with their farmer and with the earth from where their food originates.
But life on the farm wasn’t always this peaceful. In our early years, haunted by self-doubt and intimidated by the all-seeing public eye, we made little headway as we wrestled tirelessly to convert thirty acres of depleted pastureland into a vegetable, fruit, and flower farm. Plagued by weeds and pests, disappointed by countless failures, and overwhelmed by mounting debts the dismal wail of the highway wore away at our dejected spirits.
We gave up now and then in those early years. And some nights we decided to quit altogether only to rise early the next morning to continue the journey we had begun. Business in the market was slow. Many customers, coddled by the conveniences of the supermarket, wanted variety and consistency, and didn’t understand the variability and seasonality of farming.
Fortunately, some of our customers were patient with us and took the time to learn about seasonal eating and the struggles of starting a new farm. They recognized our potential, they showered us with encouragements, and amazingly, they bought our crooked carrots, green onions, zucchini, tomatoes, and cauliflower. They didn’t just say they supported local agriculture; they showed it in their actions. There is no doubt that the incredible community support is what carried us through those first difficult seasons.
And then we stumbled upon no-till, permaculture gardening. We started to read everything we could on regenerative agriculture. We parked the tiller and mulched our gardens with compost reducing soil disturbance and improving soil structure. We added flowers to attract beneficial insects. We started producing or own compost and learned about the soil food web and the valuable role of fungi and the red wriggler. We planted perennial edibles, fruit bearing shrubs and nut trees. As soil fertility improved our crops began to thrive and with increasing plant biodiversity, predatorial insects and birds found a home on our farm and the pests no longer had the upper hand.
After this we started to hear the highway with new ears. The relentless roar became our championing call compelling us with greater urgency to make food-security a reality for our growing population. To achieve this, we would model great gardening here on our farm, and, through education, we’d inspire gardeners, young and old, to transform their yards into verdant, edible landscapes.
Recently, after harvesting an infinitely long row of fingerling potatoes, I stood up to work the stiffness from my tired legs and my eyes were drawn towards that endless stream of vehicles racing by less than a couple hundred feet from where I stood. I recalled the days a decade ago when I was too ashamed to look up as we struggled to win over the spirit of this farm.
But now, standing barefoot, surrounded by living things and food in abundance, I looked earnestly, not at the cars but at the occupants in the vehicles racing by on our collective mad pursuit for wealth and happiness. I wanted to call out and encourage each person to join us in reconnecting with the land and building a sun-based, decentralized food system that’s capable of feeding our communities.
First, I’d explain, we need to repopulate the food-producing landscape and the country sides. Biodiverse farms and market gardens require far more people per acre than conventional, monoculture agriculture. If we’re to feed people a wholesome diet of clean food, we need less people in their cars and more people in the fields working and living on the land.
We would also need more farmers markets in our cities and towns where growers and producers of all types and sizes can sell their food throughout the year directly to the people living in the area. Farmers markets, I’d justify, should be as easy to find and just as accessible as the grocery store. They should be found in the same numbers, too.
But most importantly, I’d urge homeowners and people with access to land to start growing their own food. Even a small plot or a balcony, I call out to no one in particular, can produce abundantly. There are too many lawns, overgrown yards, and plots of land on the fringes, that with little effort and low cost can be transformed into beautiful, edible landscapes.
But, despite my summons, the relentless highway roars on and no one even notices the lone, dreamy farmer as he puts forth his vision for a food-secure future. Feeling mildly dejected, I remind myself that the only way towards a sustainable future in food is by becoming that change we envision and so I return my attention to the farm and cast my eyes down the next long row of fingerlings. I find my place on the earth and begin moving aside the rich, fertile soil in search of the colorful nuggets placing them gently in my crate always working to the rhythm and hum of the highway.
Dan Oostenbrink, Local Harvest.