More and more people are getting hip to the message of the good food movement – people who vote with their dollars by supporting local farmers; people who want to know how their chickens were raised; people who have read up on the facts about GMO’s. And this is a wonderful thing! But when you want to take the next step and grow some of your sustenance yourself, it can be a bit daunting. You’re going to need some space, and you’re going to need some know-how. Where do you turn?
I recently had the opportunity to interview a woman from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada who is using Community Supported Agriculture not only to nourish her neighbors, but also to educate them. Self-described “Food Actionist” Anita Gregoire has built a brilliant CSA model from the borrowed yards of people in her own community.
Having always possessed a fondness for gardening, a few years back Anita found herself with a desire to grow vegetables and a too-small backyard. Not one to be discouraged, she placed an ad in a local publication that offered her gardening expertise and labor in exchange for space to plant her vegetables. The idea was well received – it turns out there were many people locally with plenty of yard space but not enough time to maintain a garden, and Anita found ample room to grow her produce.
Frustrated by the growing disconnect between people and the land that sustains them, and knowing that Community Supported Agriculture had the potential to transform such a disconnect, Anita started a website for her province that lists all the CSA’s in the region. Then, in 2009, she started On Borrowed Ground CSA with the same concept as her original newspaper ad: if people would lend their gardens, she would grow the produce. Drawing upon permaculture ideas, no-till concepts, and sustainable methods, she now tends ten borrowed vegetable gardens and supplies twenty members with seasonal produce.
However, Anita doesn’t go it alone. “We don’t just grow vegetables, we grow gardeners,” she says. Membership in the CSA, along with a fee, requires an hour a week (or four hours per month) volunteering in the gardens – weeding, planting, harvesting, mulching. Vegetable shares are picked up from Anita’s home every Tuesday, May through September, and include everything from beets and cherry tomatoes to salad greens and sorrel. She also allows access to the raspberries and Evans cherries in her own yard during July and August. One of the major components of her “Education Based” CSA is bi-weekly workshops on specific growing techniques and topics of interest. She also enjoys sharing information while weeding with her members.
On Borrowed Ground has evolved over the last few years to now delegate some of the work to Garden Captains – these CSA members pay a discounted fee and act as project managers for each garden space. This has freed Anita up to acquire new gardens to expand the CSA, and continue with other projects she is passionate about, including a CSA pilot project for local schools.
Some may wonder, is there really enough space in one’s own community? Absolutely – and the offers from people wanting to lend their gardens to Anita’s green thumb just keep coming. The founder of On Borrowed Ground turns down between four and eight garden offers annually, because when she takes on a garden, she wants to do it well.
Anita takes a birds’ eye view of the world for ideas on how sustainable food systems can be implemented in her local community. “If you want to be a world-class city,” she says, “you have to look at the current world-class cities and one-up them. London has chickens. Paris has bees. How can we do this and more in our own city?” Anita is passionate about not just producing quality vegetables, but doing it in a way that inspires others to take responsibility for growing their own food. Her advice to anyone wanting to grow vegetables in their backyard, or start a CSA model like hers, is to start small, master the basics, and slowly expand.
What an excellent example of the creativity that can occur when just one person is willing to think outside the box!
For further information, visit Anita’s website at www.onborrowedground.com. If you are looking for space of your own, you may find it at www.sharingbackyards.com, but Anita also recommends putting ads in community newspapers or door knocking with a flyer.