Wearing my hat as a volunteer at our local food bank I have chosen to interpret food security in a very local and immediate way – helping to ensure that the shelves at the food bank are stocked to meet the needs of the food insecure in our community that come to the food bank once a month for four or five days worth of food. Most recently we have tried to ensure that at least some portion of that food is local fresh produce.
I attended a couple of events last week that convinced me to broaden my interpretation of food security. First was the meeting of Pakenham Horticultural Society on Wednesday. The guest speaker was Telsing Andrews, the owner, operator and genius behind Aster Lane Edibles, near Kinburn, which is a small edible-plant nursery and seed company committed to increasing the knowledge of small scale crop cultivation, plant breeding and propagation-by-seed and edible landscape design. She gave a fascinating presentation on edible perennials going beyond the well-known rhubarb and asparagus into lesser known plants such as docks and seakale. Her knowledge is encyclopaedic, her energy and enthusiasm are boundless and she has a network of like-minded individuals around the globe that are committed to the long-term security of our food sources.
The second event was the annual opening of our own local Seed Library at the Almonte Library on March 18. This is the third year of operation. There are some 200 members and a strong cadre of volunteers that sort and stuff packets with seeds that have been donated. Come and ‘borrow’ some seeds – there are dozens of varieties of heritage tomatoes! Some of the reasons for saving seeds are to keep heirloom varieties alive, promote diversity and over time breed plants that are well-suited to local growing conditions.
Food security is an all-important issue for the survival of our species. For what it is worth, the 1996 World Food Summit adopted a still more complex definition: … “Food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
I am convinced of the merits of diversity and local sustainable gardening practices. I will continue with local community gardening projects, perhaps venture into seed saving but have to admit that plant breeding seems a bit of a stretch for me (but am very glad that knowledgeable, committed folks out there are doing it)!
Update on the Carleton Place Community Garden
Last week I wrote about a $4,700 grant that has been awarded to rejuvenate the community garden next to St. Gregory School on Townline Road. This project is being lead by the Lanark County Food Bank (aka the Hunger Stop) in collaboration with existing gardeners at the site and in consultation with local Master Gardeners. The Hackberry Men’s Shed group has agreed to design and build the shed and other structures. Planning is now proceeding full speed ahead;
- An organizational meeting will be held Monday evening March 27 at 7pm at the Carambeck Community Centre 351 Bridge Street in Carleton Place (North of Townline Road) for gardeners and for volunteers that want to be part of the re-build.
- A gardening workshop will be held Saturday April 8 from 10 am until noon also at the Carambeck Community Centre. I will be presenting a few slides on the Community Garden project as well as some slides on the gardening calendar, talking about which vegetables like cool growing conditions and the ones that need heat. I am delighted that Ed Lawrence, our very own gardening celebrity, has agreed to join me to answer your questions!
- Circle the dates April 29 and 30, the last weekend in April. Construction will be in full swing at the community garden on Townline Road next to St. Gregory School, starting at 9 in the morning and going until dark (or until we drop). Bring your wheelbarrows, shovels and rakes!
A note on public policy
I try to avoid taking a position on local political issues that are creating division in our community, but I find that I cannot do so in the case of Don Maynard Park. I believe that it is bad public policy to sell any part of this park or the adjoining block. This is a gem in a mature neighbourhood – it is very close to two elementary schools and two seniors residences, there are landscaped areas with beautiful twenty-year old trees, there are wilder areas where kids can explore nature, and there is ample space for opportunities to create new intergenerational gardening experiences!
Sweet Potato slips
I visited the very helpful folks at the Five-Span Feed Store in Pakenham on Saturday and was able to order some Sweet Potato slips. Unlike regular potatoes where the tuber is planted in the garden, Sweet Potatoes are started by planting either shoots (called slips) or vine cuttings in the garden. The key to successful growing of Sweet Potatoes in this area is choosing a variety that will produce a good crop during the relatively short summer. DO NOT try to grow slips from a tuber purchased from a supermarket. The varieties found there generally require 120 days to produce a crop compared to the 90 or so days of hot weather available to the local gardener. Georgia Jet is by far the best variety that I have found for the local climate, having excellent taste and producing many large-sized tubers. Place your order soon with Five Span Feeds for Georgia Jet slips grown by a local market gardener.