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This article was published 20/4/2011 (3099 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
This summer, Jesse Payne will be digging up lawns in Ottawa to plant vegetable gardens in place of grass. He doesn't actually own the land — owners have willingly handed over their property to his company in exchange for veggies.
"Vegetable Patch is an agri-business that gets people who don't have time to garden to share their backyards. In exchange for the use of their space, homeowners receive baskets of vegetables throughout the growing season," says Payne. "We are starting our fourth year and currently have 12 gardens just outside the downtown region of Ottawa."
Urban agriculture is becoming a popular trend across the country as the vegetable garden makes a serious comeback. It's been almost 70 years since so many Canadians have willingly tilled the earth. During the Second World War, the Canadian government encouraged people to grow their own food so existing stock could be shipped to troops overseas. "Victory Gardens" spread across the country; by 1943 there were more than 200,000 backyard plots.
As we became seduced by easy access to the supermarket, the home garden fell by the wayside. The first gardening revival in the 1980s was all about curb appeal but today's Canadian gardener is after a different kind of victory.
"People are concerned about their health and the price of food. We get most of our food from the States, but what happens to supplies when the soil becomes too weak and the weather unpredictable?" asks Dan Jason, owner of Salt Spring Seeds.
Jason started his small seed company in 1986 and in the last few years has seen tremendous growth, particularly from homeowners digging up their lawns and converting their sheds into greenhouses.
While it's true the backyard garden can lessen gas consumption by creating a no-mile diet, Canadians are supporting urban agriculture for less altruistic reasons. Compare a tomato fresh off the vine to its supermarket cousin and the real motivation is apparent — flavour.
"People in general are more health conscious, but they also want better-tasting vegetables. Supermarket varieties don't taste as good as locally grown organic," Payne says.
The UN predicts that by 2036, more than 60 per cent of the world will be living in cities. Co-operative urban farms are considered a viable solution to the growing poverty of city dwellers. Gail Vandersteen and Wally Satzewich are pioneers in the urban agriculture movement. For 14 years their company, Wally's Urban Market Garden, has been selling local, city-grown organic produce to Saskatoon residents. Together with U.S.-based farmer Roxanne Christense, they created the SPIN (S-mall P-lot IN-tensive) program to teach people how to become farmers without having the pull up their urban roots.
"I've been surprised with the degree of enthusiastic response, from aspiring farmers to policymakers. SPIN farming focuses on the commercial aspects rather than the idealism, which needs to be coupled with revenue in order for urban farming to grow," Satzewich says.
Condo and apartment dwellers are not being left out of this gardening revolution. New York artists Britta Riley and Rebecca Bray created Windowfarms as part of an interactive art show. Designed to use recycled water bottles and to fit into any window, the vertical, indoor hydroponic garden became so popular that Riley opened up a business creating Windowfarm kits.
"Food is such an integral part of our lives that we hit home with the idea that you can grow your own food in winter in an apartment," says Riley. "Canadian sales have been so great that we had look for a Canadian distributor."
Where to start if you're interested in becoming an urban farmer? Payne and Jason recommend growing the vegetables you love to eat.
"A lot of people enjoy working in the garden and find it relaxing and meditative. Everyone should know how to grow food," Payne says.
— For Postmedia News