Treatise of an urban farmer
Maintaining a tie to the land in the middle of the city
I’m often surprised that anything grows in my garden plot at
Bytown Urban Gardens (BUGS), pinned between constant construction and
the roaring highway in downtown Ottawa. Each tomato seems like a miracle.
I’ve had a plot — and been a member of the steering committee — at
BUGS in Ottawa for three summers now. Each year, I come together with
fellow gardeners to take a gamble on our little patch of dirt and share
the communal chores. Like other farmers, we don’t know which
crops will fail and which will succeed. We don’t know if the
squirrels — or the teenagers — will steal our produce.
Living in a house that doesn’t have a yard and next to a street
that is under endless construction, I go to the garden to distance
myself from the urban blight and the stresses of modern life.
I enjoy the cross-section of urban dwellers that make up my garden’s
community: There is Richard, who only grows onions and lovingly cares
for the compost. David has turned part of his plot into a play area
for his young sons. A collective household maintains their collective
garden. An 86-year-old French woman is growing everything bio-dynamically
(definition). One year, someone grew a small field of wheat. This
year we have a collective strawberry patch. We are as eclectic a group
as one would expect from downtown living.
At my garden, I see people who live in poverty and are able to grow
a little food for themselves, and others who generously give their
surplus to others. I see stressed-out or depressed people coming to
the garden to heal their minds. I see people learning and sharing skills.
I see people helping others and breaking the isolation of their homes.
I see people trying on leadership and finding it suits them.
This is why I fought so hard to protect my garden when it was threatened
by the City of Ottawa’s bid to sell off surplus land last year.
The land had been sold for housing and the city spun the situation
as gardening versus desperately needed housing. It never occurred to
them that the same people need both food and an affordable place to
sleep. In the end, we succeeded in ensuring that a garden will stay
on the site, even when the building is complete, allowing the connection
we’ve forged with both the community and the land stand, and
By Natasha Beaudin