We all have an incredibly complicated emotional relationship with food. We celebrate special occasions, we show our love to our family and friends by preparing a special dish and we show our love for our neighbours and our community as we share food that we have grown and prepared. Unfortunately we also eat when we’re down or bored.
Just as an aside, I continue to be astounded by the cynical purveyors of ‘so-called’ food laced with a toxic broth of sugar, salt and fat – the evil trinity of modern fast and convenient food. Multinational corporations target vulnerable populations with so-called comfort food as they continue to successfully resist or delay public intervention.
I suspect that most non-gardeners cannot begin to fathom the emotional attachment that gardeners feel for their gardens. The emotional connection between gardeners and the food they grow is strong. I have been moved to apoplexy and then to despair and back to anger as a vegetable that has been babied from seed to near harvest (often a process of 4 to 8 months) is grabbed by a thoughtless vandal and hurled against a wall. This year I have been most frustrated by the squash borer that has killed dozens of squash vines; more on this scourge next week!
Backyard vegetable gardeners face many challenges – diseases, insect pests, mammalian pests, too much rain, not enough rain, too hot, too cold, early frost, late frost. I had enough frost overnight on Friday that most of the leaves on one of my beds of sweet potatoes were frozen as were basil and peppers – possibly the shortest frost-free growing season in recent memory.
Gardeners in community or public gardens face the additional challenges of vandalism and theft. I have also seen conflict arise between gardeners over things such as perceived trespass over the boundaries between plots, hogging the water or perceived petty theft.
So why do gardeners, and most particularly community gardeners, persist in the face of what often seems like overwhelming odds against success?
- My first observation is that many neophyte gardeners do become discouraged and give up the fight.
- My second observation is that most successful gardeners that I have met tend to be ‘glass half-full’ kind of people (or perhaps incurable optimists).
- My third observation is that previous successes loom large in the memory of gardeners that lust after even greater success (or more ribbons in the fall fair).
- My fourth observation, particularly for community gardens, is that there are a whole lot of really great things going on, such as an awesome sense of satisfaction in seeing the excitement as a new gardener that you have been mentoring reaps their first harvest. A collection of garden plots in close proximity to each other is a great catalyst for the development of community as neighbours help one another.
- My fifth observation is that I have also seen many gardeners who need a challenge (as do most folks in many other areas of life). Some like to research, seek out expert advice, and experiment with new techniques. Satisfaction may be found in the journey rather than being bound up with a successful result!
- My sixth observation is that for many gardeners their labour is part of a larger sense of purpose as they work for a social purpose such as educating youngsters, encouraging pollinators or growing food for the food bank.
And indeed there have been successes. Readers may recall the travails of redeveloping the Carleton Place Community Garden on Townline Road with many delays due to flooding. Notwithstanding the late start, some notable successes have been achieved. Last week a large bed of Chieftain Potatoes was dug and trucked to the food bank. These potatoes were nicely sized and in premium condition. A growing bed of about 300 square feet yielded 275 pounds of potatoes – not a shabby result!
Just a quick reminder to bring your surplus veggies to the food bank – the latest report I have obtained shows Carleton Place and Mississippi Mills in a virtual tie at just over a thousand pounds each in the Great Veggie Grow-Off!