Adventures in Growing Our Own Food
By Lorraine Johnson
Greystone Books, 242 pages, $20
From Farmers' Fields to Rooftop Gardens --
How Canadians Are Changing the Way We Eat
By Sarah Elton
HarperCollins, 229 pages, $30
By now, words like locavore and food miles have become a part of the modern lexicon.
Food-related books like Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation have topped bestseller lists, been made into movies and permeated food culture.
Their message: processed, mass-produced food is bad while local, organic and small-scale food is good.
But though almost many have adopted this gospel, there has been the nagging -- and increasingly hard to ignore -- question of the logistics of it all, especially in this part of the world.
First, there simply isn't enough local food available to feed our ever-increasing population (and some argue there never will be).
Second, our harsh winter climate means local eating is almost impossible for more than half the year. And third, no matter how dedicated to food miles we are, some of us just don't want to give up chocolate, coffee and macadamia nuts forever.
Enter the urban farmer, an almost quirky, but ever more common oxymoron popping up in major cities across the country.
It's the phenomenon explored in two new books by Toronto women, Locavore by Sarah Elton and City Farmer by Lorraine Johnson.
Both authors explore the idea of just how the local food movement fits into the future of our cities and the potential for food growth in urban environments.
The stronger of the two books is certainly City Farmer. A regular food writer and professional gardener, Johnson grew up with a natural inclination towards growing her own food.
Her foray into urban farming starts at the steps of the White U.S. House, as she describes Michelle Obama planting a vegetable garden on the lawn as a sort of political statement. She ends at the elaborate container garden in her own backyard.
Johnson's explores what can be accomplished by growing our food in the city. She says there are thousands of acres of perfectly good crop land lying fallow. It's possible, she explains, to grow carrots on suburban boulevards and fruit in public parks, where people are free to share in the harvest.
She takes us to visit urban farmers who grow enough food on their small properties to make a profit. She introduces us to the growing number of homeowners offering their lawns to aspiring urban farmers looking for a place to dig their trowels.
Needless to say, Johnson opposes the widespread belief that farming should only take place in rural areas. She finds a group of people in Toronto who want to nix a plan to put an orchard in a public park. One of their reasons? People might get fruit stains on their clothes.
Where writers of this genre can sometimes take themselves a little too seriously, Johnson uses humour and a touch of self-mockery to demonstrate that no matter how important food security may be, the love of food should still give us pleasure.
In one particularly endearing chapter, she describes her backyard chicken coop replete with three cunning hens. The image Johnson paints of these sly, yet whimsical, creatures makes you wonder if you might be up for some new pets of your own.
Another entertaining chapter has Johnson creating a guerilla garden on the waterfront in Toronto, as she delights in the perplexed looks and inevitable questions of passersby.
It's this fun and personal touch that is missing from Elton's Locavore, making it seem more like working through an essay than pleasurable reading.
A regular CBC food columnist, Elton takes us on a journey across Canada as she explores two different sorts of urban farmer. One group are the young professionals with no farming experience selling off their downtown condos to start dairy farms in the country. The other group are the gardeners in the city as described by Johnson.
Elton takes us to the clever and resourceful farms of those trying to defy Mother Nature, planting crops that with a bit of care and shelter, can be grown and enjoyed in the dead of winter.
She also explores the country's expanding greenhouse movement as another option to winter farming and even as an answer to those crops that traditionally haven't been viable in Canada.
(Manitoba readers will notice that although Elton talks to farmers in almost every part of the country, any reference to our own province is inexplicably absent.)
But where Elton ultimately fails is in to her own lack of involvement in the story. Locavore has very little personality.
The reader gets an interesting set of facts on urban farming but without any of the heart found in City Farmer.
Nisha Tuli is a Winnipeg writer and foodie who grows vegetables in her backyard.