Time to Grow

View Previous

Food Waste

Time to Grow

Neighbourhoods feeding neighbourhoods

couple with their vegetables

Madeleine Maltby and Matthew Mason-Philip

Most run the other way when a duo with pamphlets knock on their doors. Madeleine Maltby and Matthew Mason-Phillip went door to door for a while, asking Ottawa residents if they could borrow their backyards to grow organic produce. Now, they say the people of Ottawa are mostly coming after them.

The business they run is called Backyard Edibles. It’s an operation in urban farming where the pair borrows plots of land in backyards of Westend Ottawa. In exchange for the growing space, the homeowners receive a share of the produce grown each week during the season. The rest of it gets sold to restaurants, at farmers markets, the Herb & Spice Shop, and Rainbow Foods.

Maltby and Mason-Philip describe this method of farming as “hyper-local.” It’s about growing food in the same community that consumes it. Obvious benefits are cutting down on transportation emissions, greater food security in communities, and saving on the overhead cost of purchasing land to grow on. They say what’s more important is getting the community involved in how food is grown, and embedding sustainable growing methods into the neighbourhood. Homeowners, and even people who buy Backyard Edibles’ produce at the farmers markets, can observe what’s being grown in the backyards of their neighbourhoods and anticipate it arriving at their table. Maltby and Mason-Philip say it fosters a community connection.

While their operation is expanding to include more backyards each season, the owners have tried to keep most of their plots concentrated in Westend. Even so, Mason-Philip says they’re still sometimes sneaking into backyards after dark or before the sun is up to squeeze in one more watering, tiptoeing around the lawn to avoid tripping the overhead lights and waking up the homeowners.

Time to grow podcast

While their operation is expanding to include more backyards each season, the owners have tried to keep most of their plots concentrated in Westend. Even so, Mason-Philip says they’re still sometimes sneaking into backyards after dark or before the sun is up to squeeze in one more watering, tiptoeing around the lawn to avoid tripping the overhead lights and waking up the homeowners.

            What makes the hyper-local food from Backyard Edibles sustainable? All the produce is organic, non-GMO, and they’re growing on land that wouldn’t have been used otherwise. Most importantly, Maltby and Mason-Philip enjoy lots of face-time with their buyers. They make personal deliveries to the restaurants that order specific types of sprouts, heirlooms, and other produce from them with particular menu items in mind. They attend the Westboro and Lansdowne Farmer’s Markets where most of their produce is sold. Being able to shake someone’s hand doesn’t mean what they’re selling is necessarily more sustainable than anything else, but it means consumers can ask questions important to them about what they’re buying and get answers from the growers, not a public relations or marketing team. Backyard Edibles’ best advice to sustainability-conscious consumers is to meet your farmers, and ask about their practices.

colourful vegetables

A bounty of vegetables

In Ottawa, there’s lots of ways to support hyper-local farming, and benefit from it yourself.

Frequent a farmer’s market

Ottawa has a farmer’s market at almost every corner. The ByWard Market is the best-known, but you can buy local produce in most areas of the city. In fact, according to the Ottawa Citizen, the ByWard Market’s declining profits have been concerning city councillors for years as so many more local markets have cropped up in the city. The Riverside South market was recently added to city zoning, and another new market is upcoming in Stittsville. Plan an outing to your local market and before you go, find a recipe that uses in-season produce to find from a vendor. While you’re there, ask them about what they grow and how they grow it.

Grow your own garden

Backyard Edibles has turned the concept of farming and home vegetable gardens on its head by growing in backyards and then selling in markets. Mason-Philip says “anywhere there’s green space, this can and should be done.”

If your backyard isn’t ideal for a vegetable garden because of space, or too much shade, try growing a mono-garden with one type of produce suited to the conditions you have available. Kale is a beginner-friendly vegetable to start with that’s best in full sun, but also tolerates shade. It doesn’t take a lot of space to grow enough for regular salads, smoothies, and sautéed vegetable sides.

Subscribe to a Community-Supported Agriculture box

Buying a subscription to a CSA box is another way to invest in and benefit from local agriculture if you lack the land or the time to garden. Subscribers buy a share at the beginning of a growing season, and then receive a portion of the produce grown in the coming months. This subscription-based model directly supports local farmers, and helps them pay for overhead to prepare for a costly season of growing. Subscribing is the easiest way to make sure you have a steady supply of local produce when grocery shopping falls down on your priority list. Check out this map for CSA subscriptions available in Ottawa.

Go to restaurants that source their food locally

Mason-Philip likens sitting down at a restaurant and being served locally-grown produce to attending a concert or a live show. It’s a great way to get ideas about different ways to prepare vegetables at home. Hotspots in Ottawa for restaurants serving local food are Pure Kitchen, Cafe My House, and The Soca Kitchen.

 

 

 

Credits

Interview

Photographs

  • Courtesy of Backyard Edibles

Sound effects

Music

Video

  • USC Canada